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Defender Services - Annual Report 2015

Part of the Judiciary’s mission is to ensure that persons entitled to representation under the Criminal Justice Act are afforded well qualified representation through either a federal defender or panel attorney.

Comprehensive Review of the CJA Program Launched

In April 2015, a comprehensive study of the Criminal Justice Act of 1964 (CJA) program was authorized to assess the quality and effectiveness of legal representation and services under the CJA. In March 1993, in response to the Report of the Committee to Review the Criminal Justice Act (the “Prado Report”), the Conference resolved that “the Judiciary should arrange for a comprehensive, impartial review of the CJA program every seven years” (JCUS-MAR 93, p. 37).

To carry out the current study, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. appointed an ad hoc committee chaired by Judge Kathleen Cardone (W.D. Tex.). Judge Edward C. Prado (Fifth Circuit), who chaired the 1993 review, serves as chair emeritus. The committee includes federal defenders, federal judges, a CJA panel attorney, a law professor, a federal courts representative, and a private law firm lawyer. The public is being invited to submit comments to In addition, letters soliciting written comments or oral testimony have been sent to members of the Judiciary, national organizations, defender organizations, bar associations, and others who may have an interest in or information about the program. 

The first of several public hearings was held November 16-17, 2015, in Santa Fe, NM. Other hearings will be held around the country to ensure broad participation. The committee’s report is expected in the spring of 2017.

Federal Defender Organizations Rebuild Post-Sequester

Federal defender organizations (FDOs) saw their national staffing shrink by about 500 positions (14 percent) as a result of the fiscal year 2013 sequestration cut, reaching a low point of 3,053 in March 2014. Since then, FDOs have added 355 positions, for a total of 3,408 FTEs on board as of October 2015.

Most of this hiring occurred in the first and fourth quarters of fiscal year 2015. During the intervening months, FDO staffing remained unchanged as federal defenders awaited the results of the FDO work-measurement study, which was presented to the Judicial Conference Judicial Resources Committee in June 2015.

The new staffing formulas could allow for the addition of new positions for many FDOs. FDO staffing has increased steadily as federal defenders received funding levels that will allow additional staff to be retained to meet their caseloads.  

Assistance Provided on Clemency 2014 Project Requests

The Judiciary is providing assistance in gathering data from approximately 20,000 prisoner cases as part of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ (NACDL) involvement in the Clemency Project 2014. The Clemency Project 2014 is an effort by the Department of Justice and the White House in which the legal profession has been asked to provide pro bono assistance in connection with clemency applications for federal prisoners who meet certain criteria and would likely have received shorter prison terms if sentenced today.

Circuit CJA Case-Budgeting Attorneys Program Grows

By the end of fiscal year 2015, the Circuit CJA Case-Budgeting Attorney (CBA) program expanded to nine CBAs from the three original pilot positions in the Second, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits. CBAs also now function in the First, Third, Fourth, Seventh and Eighth (a shared position), and Tenth Circuits. A second CBA was allocated to the Ninth Circuit in view of the circuit’s disproportionately large workload. The Judicial Conference Defender Services Committee approved a CBA position for the Fifth Circuit in December 2015. One additional CBA position was funded in the Judiciary’s FY 2016 appropriations.

These circuit positions are intended to provide objective case-budgeting advice to judges and to enhance the management of, and accountability for, the cases most significantly affecting the Defender Services account.

The AO works closely with the circuit unit executives and the new CBAs to ensure that the case-budgeting program promotes Judicial Conference policies that encourage the use of case budgeting in qualifying CJA panel attorney cases, and is aligned with the defender services program’s strategic goal of providing cost-effective representation that promotes and is consistent with the best practices of the legal profession.

Criminal Justice Act Symposium Addresses Challenges, Changes

A public symposium continued the federal Judiciary’s celebration of 50 years under the Criminal Justice Act. 

The keynote speaker was Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, whose father, Robert F. Kennedy, was a key proponent of the right to adequate legal defense for all Americans. The Criminal Justice Act of 1964 is considered one of the most important pieces of legislation to come out of Kennedy’s tenure as Attorney General. In her remarks, Ms. Townsend described the incremental improvements made to the Act since 1964 to create what has become the “gold standard” of legal representation in the criminal justice system.

Symposium panelists addressed the challenges, choices and commitments of federal defense efforts and what can be learned from effective defense practices outside the United States. 

View the full symposium on the Federal Judiciary Channel on YouTube.

Training Conducted for FDOs and CJA Panel Attorneys

In 2015, the AO held numerous programs for CJA panel attorneys and Federal Defender Office attorneys, paralegals, investigators, and other FDO staff. These programs included substantive legal training through national seminars and skills-based workshops and conferences on administrative and managerial issues. Practitioners received training on recent developments in criminal law and procedure, and honed their skills in trial practice, electronic case management, legal writing, and sentencing mitigation. The AO also offered webinars on cutting-edge topics in federal criminal defense, such as the implications of the recent Supreme Court decision in Johnson v. United States (No. 13-7120).

A new seminar in August 2015, “Race in the Federal Criminal Court: Strategies in Pursuit of Justice,” helped educate approximately 80 CJA panel attorneys about the ways race impacts the administration of justice in federal courts, providing them with strategies to combat racial injustice in the criminal justice system. Areas covered included implicit bias, jury selection and Batson challenges, use of experts, motions practice, and racial disparities in charging, pleas, and sentencing.

IT Service Enhanced for the Federal Defender Community

Developing a more reliable, scalable, and innovative national infrastructure for the federal defender community was a priority in 2015. Several defender-related system and technology upgrade initiatives and a national survey to identify defender IT resource and training needs were undertaken. A resource review report recommended an immediate funding increase for critical infrastructure. The additional funds enabled the upgrade of aging infrastructure components and an increase in bandwidth to accommodate growing defender use of cloud and mobile technology.