R2C National Consortium Third Annual Meeting

R2C National Consortium held its third annual meeting on Thursday, November 2, 2017, at the Office of Justice Programs in Washington, D.C. Watch the opening remarks from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and Acting Attorney General Alan R. Hanson here.

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein stated in his keynote remarks, "Protecting the right to counsel is a fundamental component of preserving the rule of law and ensuring equal access to justice," and went on to reflect that, "Being a criminal defender can be a thankless job [...] It means struggling to mount the best defense possible in the face of great adversity. But, as our nation’s founders knew, this role is essential to safeguarding justice."

The public defender role is essential to safeguarding justice, and everyone has a role to play in making the change the criminal justice system needs to ensure public defenders are able to fulfill their duty effectively. The rest of the meeting was structured around highlighting the unique role each stakeholder in addition to public defenders can play in securing the right to counsel.

Following the Honorable Rod J. Rosenstein, the R2C National Consortium shared highlights of the work done on behalf of the R2C National Campaign since the last meeting, and consortium members gave panel presentations on state and local accomplishments in Contra Costa, California, and Tennessee. There followed fireside chats with law enforcement, prosecutors, cross-discipline actors, and an impacted community member, who shared a harrowing, inspirational, and deeply personal story of how the justice system failed her before a well-trained and well-resourced public defender helped her turn everything around.

After the fireside chats, meeting participants broke into cross-disciplinary teams for a facilitated workshop. This breakout session provided an opportunity for groups that rarely engage with each other to take part in robust conversations and share their perspectives on how they individually can safeguard the constitutional right to counsel and reform public defense delivery systems.

The day concluded with participants sharing their groups' perspectives on topics such as how court systems are operating in ways that are inconsistent with or fall short of what justice demands, what the pressures and external influences are that cause this, what the criminal justice system would be like if it lived up to our core values, and what they as stakeholders can do to chip away at these obstacles.

It was an informative, inspiring, and productive day with every speaker and participant making a fresh personal commitment to continue working toward our common goal: ensuring that the Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel is meaningfully carried out.

R2C National Consortium Third Annual Meeting videos:

R2C National Consortium Second Annual Meeting

On October 25, 2016, The Right to Counsel National Consortium held its second annual meeting in the Great Hall of the U.S. Department of Justice. The meeting brought together a group of criminal justice stakeholders, policymakers and advocates to show their continued commitment to protecting citizens' Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel. The day began with an invigorating speech by U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates in which she stated, "I've talked with correctional officers, inmates, law enforcement officers, public defense advocates, elected officials and community leaders, and despite their differing roles, the common message is clear: the status quo needs to change." The message of collaboration and cross-discipline coordination rang loud throughout the day as a requisite means for reforming public defense systems and safeguarding the constitutional right to counsel.

Following the Honorable Sally Q. Yates, attendees listened to presentations on the past year of the consortium's activities, current state and local public defense delivery system reform efforts, and future outlooks for instilling change. Individuals had the opportunity to engage with panelists and other attendees to discuss the issues they see in current public defender systems at the ground level, how to inform policy for effective change, and take personal commitments to continue working toward a common goal: ensuring that the Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel as meaningfully carried out.

Topics included in-depth discussions of state-specific reform efforts in places such as Missouri - 49th in the country for public defense funding - where the Director of the Missouri State Public Defender Office sparked a media awareness campaign that brought national attention to the crisis of public defense. New York officials presented on the filing of a class action lawsuit that precipitated reforming the state's public defense delivery system. By hearing from individuals working at the ground level, attendees were able to learn new ways state and local level stakeholders are thinking outside the box to contribute to the national conversation about the right to counsel and how they too can use various approaches to achieve system change.

A portion of the day was dedicated to gaining perspective on where the reform is headed. The conversation focused on the need for a combination of effective leadership at the national level and collective action at the state and local level. Attendees heard from defense leaders, conservative policymakers, U.S. Department of Justice leadership, judges, and a corrections secretary, all of whom expressed the value of strong public defense systems, the impact these systems have on their day to day work, and the need for all actors in the criminal justice system to take a stand and commit to safeguarding the sixth amendment right to counsel.

The day concluded with impassioned conversations about federal, state, and local policy recommendations. Consortium members had an opportunity to contribute their unique perspectives in smaller discussion groups as they brainstormed policies to address the crisis in public defense delivery systems and ways they each can contribute to this reform. Some discussions highlighted that professionals working in the system must focus on ensuring defendants have appointed counsel at all stages of the process, including initial appearances and bail hearings, and some emphasized that perhaps the biggest way to implement change was to focus on data collection and using data to inform policy and to educate the public on the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

When the meeting adjourned, the consensus was clear – there is a national commitment to safeguard the constitutional right to counsel and we each have a role to play in achieving the change the system needs.

Read more about the second annual meeting here and watch video highlights here.

You can also watch footage of the second annual meeting:

R2C National Consortium Inaugural Meeting

The Right to Counsel National Campaign, which officially launched at the inaugural meeting on November 10, 2015, utilizes a multi-faceted strategy that extends beyond policymakers to the public to identify the issues that meaningfully impact the ability to carry out the right to counsel and to identify possible solutions that provide the public defender community with the necessary tools to effectively fulfill this obligation.

During the inaugural meeting, participants included officials from the Department of Justice and representatives of various stakeholder groups, including defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, court personnel, advocacy and nonprofit groups, and community organizers. The meeting took place at the Office of Justice Programs and began with a welcome from BJA Director Denise O’Donnell and former BJA Senior Policy Advisor Kim Ball. As part of her welcoming remarks, O’Donnell commended the vast diversity of disciplines in the room, each having their own reason for interest in, and contribution to, public defense, stating “we have gathered to continue the momentum to bring the conversation about the right to counsel to the agenda.” She reaffirmed the need for a cross disciplinary consortium such as this in achieving “Gideon’s promise.”

During the opening remarks, Ball applauded the consortium members on their ability to coordinate and leverage resources from one another. She stressed the importance of public defense as a vital partner in the criminal justice system and as part of the solution to criminal justice reform. Further, she added that fairness and human dignity are key components of reform and are embodied in the R2C National Campaign. In closing, she noted that challenges and solutions presented by the R2C National Consortium may not apply to all jurisdictions and that the solutions will be unique to each system.

The meeting focused on values, challenges, strategies, and action planning, and followed a framework that not only demonstrated the importance of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel but also provided an opportunity for participants to hear from panelists of various disciplines. Prior to the panel discussions, a short video that delved into the importance of skilled counsel developed by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) was shown, providing a notable transition to the first panel on values. The video and other meeting materials are available on the R2C National Campaign website: www.rtcnationalcampaign.org.

Read more about the first annual meeting here.