Our Mission and Goals

The right to the assistance of counsel for persons of limited financial means is a constitutionally mandated, critical component of our criminal justice system - it is one of the foundations upon which the liberty of all Americans is grounded.  

The mission of the Defender Services Office (DSO), located within the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, is to uphold the right to counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, the Criminal Justice Act (CJA), 18 U.S.C. § 3006A, and other congressional mandates.

By fulfilling its mission, DSO helps to maintain public confidence in the nation's commitment to equal justice under law, and ensures the successful operation of our adversary system of justice.  The four primary goals of the Defender Services program are to:
  1. provide timely assigned counsel services to all eligible persons;
  2. provide appointed counsel services that are consistent with the best practices of the legal profession;
  3. provide cost-effective services; and
  4. protect the independence of the defense function performed by assigned counsel so that the rights of individual defendants are safeguarded and enforced.
Who We Are

DSO consists of a dedicated staff of nearly 68 full-time employees and is organized into four divisions and an administrative support staff. Cait Clarke is the DSO Chief and Pamela Hamrin serves as her Deputy Chief.

The Program Operations Division (POD), led by Stephen Macartney, is responsible for developing, executing, and monitoring the Defender Services appropriation that funds the operation of federal defender organizations (FDOs), payments to private panel attorneys who have been appointed to represent clients under the CJA, experts and other defense service providers related to these cases, and program administration costs. This funding permits counsel to accept appointment in a wide variety of representations, allows defenders to pay for appropriate case-related expenses, and supports office infrastructure requirements. Critically, POD manages the FDO case weighting system for planning and budgeting purposes, including the ongoing development of staffing formulas. In addition, POD provides operational support to FDOs for space and facilities, travel, human resources, and procurement. The division also performs on-site cyclical assessments of FDOs and CJA panel attorney programs, administers grants to community defender organizations, and oversees matters related to information management and technology.

The Legal and Policy Division (LPD), led by Windy Venable, serves as staff and counsel to the Judicial Conference Committee on Defender Services through the development of policy agenda items, briefing papers, and recommendations on the core issues that impact DSO’s mission at the national level. These policy positions are crafted and communicated through the judiciary’s Defender Services working and advisory groups, and are thoroughly researched and prepared by LPD staff members. The division also provides advice on legislative proposals and guidance in response to inquiries from federal defenders, panel attorneys, and court personnel through the Legal and Policy Duty Day program (202-502-3030). LPD has been instrumental in expanding FDO coverage to all but three federal districts and creating 18 FDO capital habeas units.

The Training Division (TD), led by Frank Draper, designs, implements, and teaches national, local, and distance learning programs for panel attorneys and FDO attorneys, paralegals, and investigators throughout the country. TD staff members provide and coordinate training materials, publications, and other online resources through the www.fd.org and www.capdefnet.org websites. The division also delivers programs through an interagency agreement with the Federal Judicial Center and assists in the design of those programs, works with contractors on the planning and implementation of death penalty and federal capital habeas corpus training, and runs the Supreme Court Advocacy Program for panel and FDO attorneys representing clients before the United States Supreme Court. TD provides guidance and information on all aspects of criminal law and procedure to counsel appointed to CJA cases through its national hotline (800-788-9908).

Who We Support

DSO supports counsel assigned to represent individuals who are unable to afford a lawyer or pay for other critical defense services. Counsel appointed under the CJA are from either a panel of private attorneys designated by the court, or a federal defender organization (FDO). There are two types of FDOs: (1) federal public defender organizations, which consist of federal employees who are part of the judiciary, and (2) community defender organizations, which are private, state-chartered, non-profit corporations funded by annual federal grants from the judiciary. An FDO may be established in any district (or combination of adjacent districts) in which at least 200 appointments are made annually. There are currently 81 FDOs with more than 3,500 employees serving 91 of the 94 judicial districts. For FY 2017, the judiciary projects that federal defenders will be appointed in approximately 120,700 representations.

The CJA also provides for the appointment of private trial lawyers who serve on a panel maintained by each district or appellate court, and who are assigned by the court to represent financially eligible defendants. In situations where federal defenders are unavailable due to FDO conflicts or workload demands, and in the districts not served by an FDO, panel attorneys are appointed to represent eligible individuals. Nationally, almost 90 percent of the more than 10,000 panel attorneys accepting CJA appointments work in small law firms (six or fewer lawyers), and approximately 60 percent are solo practitioners. The CJA provides that these attorneys shall be reimbursed for their expenses and compensated at statutorily authorized hourly rates for their services. For FY 2017, the judiciary projects that panel attorneys will be appointed in approximately 83,900 representations.