ALBANY, NY (08/11/2021) (readMedia)-- During its 54th Annual Meeting and Conference, held online, the New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA) named the Public Defense Community as the recipient of the 2021 Jonathan E. Gradess Service of Justice Award. As the July 28, 2021, presentation recognized, "many defenders went above and beyond during the pandemic" on behalf of their clients and in solidarity with one another. "From New York City to the North Country and across the state, public defense providers fought for their clients," said NYSDA Executive Director Susan C. Bryant. NYSDA chose to honor the Public Defense Community for several reasons. Public defense lawyers sought to protect the health and safety of people accused or convicted of crimes, seeking their release from incarceration and calling for government action to end risk of infection in prisons and jails. Attorneys representing parents and other caregivers worked to keep families that had been torn apart as connected as possible when the COVID-19 outbreak surged, refusing to let clients' cases languish unheard. Additionally, many took time to share strategies and information with far-flung colleagues through "trainings, meetings, emails, advocacy, and other communications," all while dealing with the personal pressures of working in unprecedented circumstances.
The award was announced with full recognition that not every endeavor was successful or as broadly applicable as might be hoped. Nonetheless, the energy that went into these efforts showed clients they had not been abandoned and demonstrated to all the nature of client-centered practice.
Among those named to represent the many individual lawyers and defense offices that inspired NYSDA during the pandemic were Yung-Mi Lee, Legal Director of the Criminal Practice with Brooklyn Defender Services, and Nila Natarajan, Supervising Attorney & Policy Counsel of the Family Defense Practice, also with Brooklyn Defender Services.
The other named honorees were:
• Chelsea Carter, Assistant Public Defender, Ontario County Public Defender's Office
• Tracey Chance, Schenectady County Conflict Defender
• Adele Fine, Family Court Bureau Chief, Monroe County Public Defender's Office
• The Legal Department, The Bronx Defenders
• Miriam Mack, Policy Counsel, Family Defense Practice, The Bronx Defenders
• St. Lawrence County Public Defender's Office
The Jonathan E. Gradess Service of Justice Award, named for NYSDA's first Executive Director, commends individuals or organizations that have provided outstanding support to public defense and to NYSDA. Those public defense lawyers who sought information and ideas from NYSDA and used what they received to help their clients, like those who shared their insights and templates with others, furthered NYSDA's mission: to improve the quality and scope of publicly supported legal representation of people who cannot afford counsel.