Legal Studies Program, Santa Cruz County Public Defender’s Office partner for National Public Defense Summit

Heather Rogers
Santa Cruz County Public Defender Heather Rogers
Keeda J. Haynes
Author and criminal justice reform advocate Keeda J. Haynes

Interested in learning about the importance of public defense and criminal law? The UC Santa Cruz Legal Studies Program, in partnership with the Santa Cruz County Office of the Public Defender, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), and the National Association for Public Defense, will host its first-ever National Public Defense Summit on February 24-25 at the Stevenson Event Center. 

The summit, titled Strengthening the Sixth in Santa Cruz: Building Cases and Community Through Holistic Defense, will feature a variety of nationally-recognized public defenders, including attorneys, social workers, and investigators, who are doing cutting-edge work in public defense, focusing on early representation, vertical representation, holistic representation, and participatory defense. 

The summit organizers are looking forward to welcoming students, who will have the opportunity to learn about career paths in this area of law. This is especially timely given that the newest U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, is a former public defender, according to Mark Fathi Massoud, a politics professor and director of the Legal Studies Program. 

“This is the first time that Santa Cruz County has hosted such an event, and we are delighted to partner with the NACDL and county officials so that students benefit from attending this training for public defenders,” said Massoud. 

The summit will kick off on the evening of Feb. 23 with Bending the Arc of Justice: Reimagining the Criminal System, featuring author and criminal justice reform advocate Keeda J. Haynes. The event is free, but separate registration is required. 

Santa Cruz County Public Defender Heather Rogers, who is also a lecturer in the Legal Studies Program, says she is incredibly excited to include UCSC students in this training. It provides a unique opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate public defense and the defender community while gaining new skills to elevate their work.

“As part of our mission to courageously defend the accused, demand equal justice for all, and empower our clients with inspired advocacy in the courtroom and community, the Santa Cruz County Office of the Public Defender is pleased to be working with national partners to bring a two-day comprehensive Holistic Defense Training to the Santa Cruz public defender community,” said Rogers. 

“Thanks to a Bureau of Justice Assistance Grant and the hard work of our partners at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Association of Public Defense, we have some of the best lawyers, trainers, social workers, and investigators in the public defense world coming to Santa Cruz County to support our vision of transforming public defense to empower those we serve by honoring their experiences, amplifying their voices, and offering real solutions to the root causes of system involvement.” 

Yanin Monter, Legal Studies program coordinator, agrees that this is a unique experience for UCSC students interested in law.

“Our students are always eager to learn beyond the classroom, and with many students in our program identifying as first-generation or a person of color, I think this allows them to learn directly from professionals in their fields of interest,” said Monter. “We hope that students within and outside of our program will join us, and we hope that we can continue to offer similar opportunities to our students in the years to come.”  

California attorneys can earn up to 12.5 hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit for attending the two-day summit. To register, visit the Strengthening the Sixth website.