Inside NACDL: NACDL at 50: A Staff Perspective

Inside NACDL Norman L. Reimer

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NACDL’s leaders, members and staff celebrate the historic 50th anniversary as heirs to an Association whose founders imagined a day when the criminal defense lawyer would be accorded the full measure of respect to which a professional is entitled. Their goal was to eradicate the public misperception of the defense lawyer as a mere mouthpiece for the crook, and replace it with an indelible image of the criminal attorney as a champion of liberty — a zealous advocate for the rights of the individual and the supreme sanctity of America’s Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The founders have attained their goal. Their dreams are a reality. Today, NACDL is universally recognized as a reliable, credible and articulate authority. The Association’s views on constitutional issues, public policy, reform of the criminal justice system, and the defense function are sought by all three branches of government, by the media, and by a broad array of national and international non-governmental entities dedicated to the protection of liberty and the advancement of freedom.

On the great criminal justice issues of the day, scarcely a week goes by when NACDL’s support, analysis or viewpoint is not solicited by other bar groups, government entities, non-government public interest entities and individual lawyers and the parties they represent. This broad esteem for NACDL was apparent at the 50th Anniversary Dinner Gala in May. The participation of more than 90 supporters, representing the mainstream of the legal profession, showed the extent to which the founders, who initially balked at referring to the Association as a group of “criminal defense lawyers,” had succeeded in recasting defense counsel’s image. Ever-increasing support from private reformers, as well as some of the most widely respected public charities, underscores broad esteem for NACDL’s public policy initiatives and confidence in the Association’s ability to foster reform.

Just a few days short of the August 11th anniversary, NACDL convened its 50th Annual Meeting in Milwaukee and installed the Association’s 50th president, renowned ethics expert John Wesley Hall. It did so secure in the knowledge that the criminal defense function enjoys society’s respect, and the Association that speaks for that function is a valued contributor to the public discourse. This status imposes an obligation to remain ever mindful of the Association’s duty to membership, the public and the many constituencies that look to NACDL for leadership, guidance and support.

Speaking on behalf of the staff, I assure you that every day and on every issue, our aim is to fulfill that duty with the highest levels of professionalism. Safeguarding NACDL’s reputation, enhancing the Association’s capacity to serve the defense bar and advancing the public policy objectives defined by leadership are our goals. We are honored and eager to carry these goals into a second, incomparable half-century as liberty’s last champion.

Hear now the voices of NACDL staff as they reflect on this golden anniversary:

For 50 years, NACDL has been liberty’s last champion. Nowhere is that more important than to the daily lives of the indigent. NACDL proudly and deftly stands up for those unable to do so for themselves. The organization’s support of indigent access to a fair legal system has been unwavering for the past five decades. From the reservations at Wounded Knee to the secret shores of Guantanamo Bay, NACDL has been there championing liberty. I am proud to be part of an organization that is not afraid to take on a politically unpopular cause in the name of justice. I look forward to NACDL championing liberty for the next 50 years.
Maureen Dimino
Indigent Defense Counsel 

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NACDL hired its first public affairs director, Charmayne Marsh, in January 1991. At that time, NACDL’s membership stood at a (then) healthy 6,723; it is now almost twice that. A former AP reporter, Ms. Marsh’s mission was awesome and daunting — to build a public affairs program from scratch, working with President Alan Ellis, President-Elect Jeffrey Weiner and Public Affairs Task Force Chair Neal Sonnett. The plan, as conceived by the Task Force in the late 1980s, was to create in the national office a desk that would serve as a clearinghouse for getting NACDL’s positions, analyses and names in the media, reacting to daily spot news events, as well as to create a proactive program of substantive news releases and proactive placement of op-eds and letters to the editor. Others followed — Kerry Bolognese, Paul Levine, Bess Bezirgan and Daniel Dodson — and as a reporter for BNA, and later for American Lawyer and the ABA, I worked with all of them, and they inspire me today.
Jack King
Director, Public Affairs & Communications 

It has been said that the most successful people are those that have the best information. The Champion is one of the vehicles through which NACDL disseminates information that assists defense attorneys on a daily basis. Because of the excellent articles submitted by our members, we continue to meet our goal of providing knowledge and tools that help protect the rights of the client.
Quintin Chatman
Editor, The Champion

This year, NACDL is not only celebrating its 50th anniversary, but is already halfway into a very busy meeting calendar. The 50th Anniversary Dinner Gala surpassed everyone’s expectations and celebrated the Association’s first 50 years in an extraordinary way. I am proud to be part of this organization’s history and look forward to participating in its future.
Tamara Kalacevic
Manager for Meetings & Education 

Although I have only recently joined the NACDL staff, I have appreciated the warmth and friendliness of the staff and everyone’s dedication to the mission of NACDL. From a membership perspective, I enjoy the face-to-face meetings I have had with many members who all have “tips” on how we can acquire and retain members. In these meetings, I have seen the passion for NACDL in each member’s eyes and have received some very useful tips on getting new members. Happy Anniversary, NACDL!
Stephen Kling
Membership Director 

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I admire NACDL for moving beyond a traditional camaraderie association and growing into an education and policy powerhouse. Today, the organization is firmly established as critical and informed opinion on all criminal justice matters, and now, the Foundation for Criminal Justice is joining with NACDL to expand the future possibilities. I can only hope that in the next 50 years we can continue to make the most of the opportunities that will come.
Malia Brink
Counsel for Special Projects 

The last seven years have been a period of impressive growth for NACDL’s policy work. Having added positions devoted to state legislation, white collar crime and grassroots mobilization, among others, NACDL’s policy staff has more than doubled. As NACDL continues to grow stronger and better equipped to meet the challenges inherent in its mission, I hope even more of our members will discover the rewards of supporting our advocacy work.
Kyle O’Dowd
Associate Executive Director for Policy 

On this 50th anniversary of NACDL, I have to say what a privilege it has been to work for one of the leading forces for criminal justice reform in this country. Thanks to the efforts of NACDL’s State Legislative Affairs Department and the affiliates and allies we work with, we have made previously unknown issues — such as eyewitness identification reform and recording custodial interrogations — hot policy reforms in state legislatures around the country. There is also more interest in sentencing reform and alternatives to incarceration at the state level than at any other time in recent memory. We should be proud of our reform efforts in these policy areas over the past few years, and continue to fight for even more state legislative victories in the coming decades.
Scott Ehlers
State Legislative Affairs Director 

During my four years at NACDL, I watched as the organization went through remarkable expansion in many arenas, including membership, staffing and national influence. I feel so privileged to have been part of NACDL’s grassroots program, and am excited to see the organization live up to its potential. I wish nothing but the best for NACDL and its members for the next 50 years!
Calli Schiller
Manager for Grassroots Advocacy 

I hope that NACDL can continue to build on the coalitions that have evolved as a result of our presence in white collar and economic crime defense. At the end of the day, everyone who is ensnared in the criminal justice system wants the same things: due process, an impartial hearing, and the fair exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Whether we become interested in these issues from the perspective of an indigent defender, retained counsel, or a business defendant, joining forces can only improve the process.
Stephanie A. Martz
Senior Director, White Collar Crime Project