The Defender Initiative advocates for better representation for people facing loss of their liberty in juvenile and other court proceedings through a combination of research and writing, and strategic litigation. Public education is also a major component of the work of the Initiative, and conferences at Seattle University School of Law and elsewhere are a part of that effort. Here are some of the Initiative's recent and ongoing events and activities.


Gideon at 60 Conference

It has been 60 years since the United States Supreme Court granted Clarence Earl Gideon’s handwritten claim for appointed counsel in a state felony case. With a lawyer at his new trial, Mr. Gideon was acquitted.

This year, nearly 50 years since the National Advisory Commission developed the familiar caseload standard of 150 felonies or 400 misdemeanors per lawyer per year, a coalition of national leaders is publishing new workload standards that are dramatically lower. The Washington State Bar Council on Public Defense plans to recommend that the existing court rule standards be amended with the new national standards in mind.

In this conference, we explored both the progress that has been made in the past 60 years and the multiple challenges ahead as defenders work to improve the representation of their clients.

Sponsored by The Washington Defender Association and The Windermere Foundation.

Read more about the Gideon at 60 Conference.


Tenth Annual Conference on Public Defense

The Tenth Annual Conference on Public Defense was held February 28, 2020. The focus was "Applying American Racial History to Improve Client Representation: Information and Skills to Help You Make a Difference in Combating Racial Bias." In the past two years, there has been a great deal of mainstream discussion of the repressed history of racial oppression in the United States. Jeff Robinson's "Who We Are", Bryan Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative Museum and Memorial, and the New York Times "1619 Project" are among the key examples. This conference aims to help defenders understand and incorporate that history into more effective representation of their clients. The discussion sessions covered the spectrum of representation, from bail to trial to sentencing, with an emphasis on what defenders can do immediately to make a difference for their clients.


Ninth Annual Conference on Public Defense

The 9th Annual Conference on Public Defense was held March 8, 2019, and discussed the opportunities presented by new rules and appellate decisions and by ongoing system reform efforts. The program explored new tools and approaches to help individual clients and to facilitate broader reform. The Keynote Speaker was Adam Foss, Executive Director and founder of Prosecutor Impact, a nonprofit organization that works to help prosecutors reframe their role in the criminal legal system.


The Calhoun Family Fellowship

The School of Law has announced the establishment of a summer fellowship working on issues of equal justice, including racial disparity, beginning in summer 2018.

The fellowship, inspired by Jerry Calhoun's (BA, Seattle U '67) association with Bryan Stevenson and The Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, will be hosted by The Defender Initiative at the law school. The program will provide a tremendous opportunity for Seattle U Law students to advance their skills and training to promote equal justice. Professor Bob Boruchowitz will supervise the fellowship.

In the first two summers of the fellowship, nine students worked on projects addressing youth justice issues, including racial disparity and sentencing and development of diversion programs. The Fellows had the opportunity to meet with leading lawyers and community advocates. They did research supporting defender attorneys' advocacy for individual clients and assisted Professor Boruchowitz with a juvenile appeal.

For more information, please email Professor Boruchowitz at

Eighth Annual Conference on Public Defense

The Defender Initiative's Eighth Annual Conference on Public Defense was held March 9, 2018, at Seattle University School of Law.

The 2018 conference theme was "Defenders-Effecting Change, for Clients and for the Courts." Public Defense in Washington has made enormous strides over the past decades but many challenges remain as well as new challenges emerging. The Defender Initiative Conference on Public Defense is an important opportunity for defenders and public defense advocates to share ideas, review and discuss cutting edge proposals, and come together in camaraderie of companions; and gain inspiration from the keynote speaker, who this year was Jeff Robinson, former defender.


Seventh Annual Conference on Public Defense

The Defender Initiative's Seventh Annual Conference on Public Defense was held March 3, 2017, at Seattle University School of Law.

This year's conference discussed, "Fifty Years Since Gault, Fifty-Four Years Since Gideon - Progress and Challenges on Right to Counsel." The promises of the Gault and Gideon decisions remain only partially fulfilled. Six weeks into a new federal administration, we will review how we can more fully implement the right to counsel, focusing on issues affecting juveniles and young adults. We will discuss how to use in daily defender practice some of the major developments in understanding how young people think; how to address issues of race in representing defender clients; and new ideas in diversion as well as the Council on Public Defense Proposed Juvenile Performance Guidelines.


Sixth Annual Conference on Public Defense

The Defender Initiative Sixth Annual Conference on Public Defense was held on March 4, 2016, at Seattle University School of Law.

The program covered very important topics and trends in legal defense but also had an emphasis on the role of money in our system. Topics included: Cash warrants and related financial barriers; Bail issues; Monetary Sanctions and LFO barriers. There also were sessions on: National Trends in Workload Studies, and Litigation to Limit Caseloads; and a new initiative to help clients who have multiple arrests, and a history of mental illness and substance abuse.

Speakers included: King County Prosecutor Dan Satterburg; King County Superior Court Judge Ron Kessler; Edmonds Municipal Court Judge Linda Coburn; and Director of the Public Defender Association Lisa Daugaard.


U.S. Department of Justice Grant | Grant, 2013-2021

The Initiative recently received a renewal of a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to work for public defense improvement in several states, including Utah, Mississippi, and Michigan. The Initiative is working with The Sixth Amendment Center on this project, which included an assessment of Utah's public defense services. The report on that assessment was published on October 26, 2015. The Utah Judicial Council Study Committee on the Representation of Indigent Criminal Defendants in Trial Courts accepted the recommendations of the report.

Professor Boruchowitz wrote a letter and spoke to the Michigan Supreme Court (PDF) and made a presentation to the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (PDF) in support of standards for public defense proposed by the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission.

Protecting the Constitutional Right to Counsel for Indigents Charged with Misdemeanors

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, May 13, 2015

Professor Boruchowitz testified at the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Fifth Annual Conference on Public Defense

The Defender Initiative held its Fifth Annual Conference on Public Defense on March 6, 2015.

Overview of the conference:

  • Washington’s Supreme Court has fully implemented its first in the country court rule on defender standards, including caseload limits.
  • The recent historic Federal Court order requiring two cities to improve their public defense system has had ripple effects across the state and nationally.
  • Across the country, New York State settled a lawsuit against it and agreed to improve public defense services in five counties, contributing millions of dollars to do so.
  • Across the country, New York State settled a lawsuit against it and agreed to improve public defense services in five counties, contributing millions of dollars to do so.
  • The keynote address was given by Frankie Guzman, a juvenile justice attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, Oakland, California who advocates for alternative sentencing for young offenders.
  • Mr. Guzman served six years in the California Youth Authority before going to college and graduating from UCLA Law School.


Fourth Annual Conference on Public Defense

The Defender Initiative held the Fourth Annual Conference on Public Defense on March 7, 2014.

Overview of the conference:

  • Many defenders and assigned counsel wonder what the next steps will be in the implementation of the new Supreme Court certification rule on standards. The conference sought to answer those questions and included discussion of the study of case weighting of misdemeanor cases.
  • The conference also addressed the implications of the Saintcalle decision on race bias in jury selection, and how defenders can effectively address their clients' civil legal issues both before and after sentencing.
  • Members of the team that won the Wilbur case in Federal Court against two Washington cities because of systemic failure to provide effective representation discussed implications of that decision.
  • The lunchtime keynote speaker was Seattle University School of Law Professor and former public defender Janet Ainsworth discussing how defenders can prevent wrongful convictions caused by false confessions.


Third Annual Public Defense Conference

The Defender Initiative held its Third Annual Public Defense Conference this past March 8, 2013.

Overview of the conference:

  • Among the speakers were Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Justices Susan Owens and Sheryl Gordon McCloud, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, Federal Defender Tom Hillier, and nationally known Professors Norm Lefstein and Kim Taylor Thompson, both former directors of the D.C. Public Defender Service.
  • The conference commemorated the 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright.


Second Annual Defender Initiative Conference on Public Defense

The Second Annual Defender Initiative Conference on Public Defense took place March 2, 2012.

Overview of the conference:

  • Attended by over 100 participants, the topics covered included how defenders can respond to racial disproportionality and race bias in the criminal justice system, the upcoming implementation of a court rule requiring compliance with standards, including caseload limits, the ongoing problems of misdemeanor defendants pleading guilty without counsel, "crimmigration," and how defenders can use software in trying cases more effectively.
  • Professor Bryan Stevenson, one of the nation's leading civil rights advocates and champions of the need to provide effective representation for people facing the death penalty, was the keynote speaker.
  • On the following day, the Initiative hosted a brainstorming session for a dozen defender and bar leaders from Washington and Oregon to discuss strategy for reform.
  • The Initiative received support from law firms and individual lawyers and the General Electric Corporation.
  • The program was co-sponsored by the Washington Defender Association.

The Right to Counsel: Why It's Important and How It Serves the Interests of all the Stakeholders in the Criminal Justice System

In concert with the Louisville, Kentucky Public Defender office, the Initiative presented a seminar at the Louisville Bar Association January 27, 2012.

Overview of the seminar:

  • The program featured presentations by and discussions with a Kentucky Supreme Court justice, several judges and prosecutors, defenders, and a psychologist who is an expert on language comprehension.
  • Professor Boruchowitz discussed both the problems he has observed in providing counsel in Kentucky and diversion ideas to remove minor non-violent offenses from the courts and to reduce defender workloads.


First Annual Defender Conference

The First Annual Defender Conference took place February 25, 2011.

Overview of the conference:

  • The conference brought together defenders, assigned counsel, judges, and other criminal justice system professionals to address a wide range of issues.
  • Tom Hillier, Federal Defender for the Western District of Washington, was the keynote speaker.
  • On the day after the conference, the Initiative hosted a brainstorming discussion for invited defender, bar, and legislative leaders to discuss strategy for reform.


Ethics and Effectiveness of Practice in Treatment Courts

The Fred T. Korematsu Center and The Defender Initiative sponsored a CLE at the Seattle University School of Law on June 11, 2010.

The Defender Initiative's Counsel at Arraignment Project: Building on Our Success

Robert C. Boruchowitz, The Defender Initiative, and the Washington Defender Assocation, January 22, 2010

Professor Boruchowitz presented a webinar for the Washington Defender Association about the Misdemeanor Counsel project and the right to counsel at arraignment.


Why There Should be Lawyers in Misdemeanor First Appearances: What They Should do for Their Clients and How to Get Resources to Hire Them

The Initiative hosted a continuing education seminar on November 6, 2009.

Prof. Boruchowitz and Sophia Byrd McSherry

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