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Rep. Jamie Raskin, Natasha Dartigue, Judge Matthew J. Fader, and distinguished guests honored the Maryland Office of the Public Defender with remarks and reflections.

The MSBA and the Association for the Public Defender of Maryland (APDM) recently hosted an evening of celebration honoring fifty years of the Maryland Office of Public Defender’s commitment to equality, dignity, and justice for all. The Office of Public Defender 50th Anniversary Gala event took place Tuesday, November 1, 2022, at Turf Valley Resort in Ellicott City, MD and was emceed by Tom Baden of the Daily Record.

The Maryland Office of the Public Defender (OPD) was created by an act of the General Assembly on July 1, 1971, and became fully operational in  January 1972. Since then, it has amplified the voice of the voiceless across Maryland. The Gala celebrated the zealous advocacy and steadfast commitment of OPD’s attorneys and staff . 

The event included legal dignitaries speaking about the past, present and future of Maryland public defense. The Honorable Robert M. Bell, former Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, and  the Honorable Judge Matthew J. Fader, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals each spoke about the importance of public defense in the Maryland judiciary. Congressman Jamie Raskin, Maryland’s 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, addressed the important role of public defenders in legislative change, including the repeal of Maryland’s death penalty, an effort he championed as a state senator.  Lisa Monet Wayne, Executive Director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, highlighted the current and future challenges of criminal law and the important role that OPD plays in this developing landscape.

The gala also honored public defense partnerships and community leaders.  The 50th Anniversary Warrior for Justice Award was provided to the University of Baltimore School of Law for their partnership on the Innocence Project Clinic. Erica Suter, Assistant Public Defender and director of the clinic accepted the award, noting “It is a privilege to be able to fight the hard fight. … Innocence is a team sport.”  The 50th Anniversary Warrior for Fairness Award went to Williams and Connolly, LLP, for their fellowship program, embedding associates in OPD  district offices for six months so they can work side by side with OPD attorneys and staff in trial court matters. Finally, OPD staff members Dawn Kouneski and Kisha Petticolas received the 50th Anniversary Warrior for Dignity Awards  for their unwavering dedication and inspiring leadership.

MSBA recognizes the important work of the Office of the Public Defender and its contribution to ensuring the legal system is fair for all,” said David Shapiro, President, Maryland State Bar Association. “With over nine-hundred staff members across the state, the Office of the Public Defender represents an important segment of the legal profession, and we at the MSBA will continue to support them and their important work as the only statewide bar association representing all facets of the legal profession in Maryland.”

Natasha Dartigue, Public Defender of Maryland, said, “Maryland public defenders are not just warriors in Maryland, but we are part of a national movement to address racial injustice and inequality, and demand accountability whenever someone’s liberty is at issue. Since 1972, OPD has worked tirelessly to provide superior representation for all clients while also tackling the pervasive problems of the criminal justice system. Our tenacious litigation protects fundamental rights, exposes corruption and misconduct, and drives significant change in the areas of juvenile justice, police integrity practices and the daily lives of Marylanders whose voices have long gone unheard.”