The Defender Initiative is part of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, whose mission is to advance justice and equality through a unified vision that combines research, advocacy, and education. The project, led by its Director, Robert C. Boruchowitz, works to effect systemic improvement in the provision of public defense services in Washington and nationally.

The Defender Initiative began in 2008 and is an unusual law school-based project aimed at providing better representation for people accused of crimes and facing loss of their liberty and, in the process, increasing fairness in and respect for the courts. The Initiative also advocates for diversion and reclassification of some misdemeanor offenses, including possession of marijuana and suspended driver license cases. This can save money, improve the misdemeanor courts, and reduce racial disparity in the criminal justice system. The Initiative aims to break the pattern of misdemeanor court involvement that leads to mass incarceration.

Through a combination of public education, research and writing, and strategic litigation, The Defender Initiative focuses on providing counsel in courts that do not currently provide lawyers and on reducing excessive defender workloads that threaten the effectiveness of the right to counsel, fostering a commitment to excellence in representation, and ensuring that defender lawyers with adequate resources are available and prepared to help accused persons at every stage of prosecution. The Initiative works closely with The Sixth Amendment Center on technical assistance and evaluation projects, including under a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The Defender Initiative worked with the Sixth Amendment Center to prepare a report on the right to counsel in Wayne County, Michigan. The report led to doubling the resources for the public defenders in Detroit.

The Initiative is proud to host the Calhoun Family Fellowship, a summer program in which selected students work on equal justice issues under the supervision of Professor Boruchowitz. The Initiative organizes an annual Conference on Public Defense.

From left to right; Professor Boruchowitz, Civil Rights Champion Bryan Stevenson and former Defender Peter Offenbecher at the Initiative’s Conference in 2012.
Professor Boruchowitz, Civil Rights Champion Bryan Stevenson, and former Defender Peter Offenbecher at the Initiative’s Conference in 2012.

Professor Boruchowitz and Civil Rights Leader Jeffery Robinson at the 2018 Initiative Conference.

This website is funded in part through a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor any of its components operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse, this website (including, without limitation, its content, technical infrastructure, and policies, and any services or tools provided).

About the Director

Robert C. Boruchowitz

Robert C. Boruchowitz

Director and Professor from Practice

Robert C. Boruchowitz is a Professor from Practice at the Seattle University School of Law, after joining the faculty in January 2007 as a Visiting Clinical Professor. He has taught a Right to Counsel Clinic, a Right to Counsel seminar, Criminal Procedure, the Youth Advocacy Clinic, and a seminar he developed on Law and the Holocaust and the Abuse of Executive Power. 

Faculty profile: Boruchowitz, Robert C.


Robert C. Boruchowitz
Professor from Practice and Director of the Defender Initiative