News Release

Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar Presents Lifetime Achievement Award to Former Executive Director Norman L. Reimer

Washington, DC (Oct. 12, 2021) – The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) awarded NACDL Former Executive Director Norman L. Reimer its Lifetime Achievement Award on October 7, 2021, during the NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice (NFCJ) 20th Anniversary Gala. NACDL’s Lifetime Achievement Awards are presented in recognition of exceptional accomplishments over a lifetime of distinguished leadership and service on behalf of the law.

“Enlightened advocacy is the unifying thread of what we have done for the past 15 years. Advocacy for the individual and Advocacy for reform,” said Norman L. Reimer upon receiving the award. “The Sixth Amendment provides for a Right to Counsel in all prosecutions. That and all the others that go with it are not reserved to the innocent or the arguably innocent. It was envisioned as a universal right for all. The Constitution commands us to stand up for the dignity and humanity of every client in every circumstance. Human beings are fallible, and often damaged by disease and life circumstance. Enlightened justice must recognize that. All accused persons need compassionate advocates. NACDL’s founding objective was to elevate standards of advocacy in every case. But that is not enough – because society is also fallible. It has spawned a criminal legal system that is so flawed that we have stopped calling it a criminal justice system. It is an engine of oppression that denigrates the humanity and the dignity of the individual. It emphasizes harshness and vengeance over compassion. It focuses on revenge instead of redemption. The unifying theme of all the great work of this Foundation for the past 15 years has been enlightened advocacy to undo evils of this abusive system. From the John Adams Project to the Return to Freedom Project, from the Resource Center to the Fourth Amendment Center, and from the myriad projects under the Strengthening the Sixth Amendment banner to the Full Disclosure Project, NACDL is promoting reform, elevating advocacy, bringing people home and proving that even in a fractured society principled advocacy can bridge the ideological divide.”

Norman has been a prominent figure in the fight for a fair and just criminal legal system, serving as the Executive Director of the Association and of the NFCJ from 2006 until July 2021, bringing NACDL to the forefront of the national conversation about criminal legal reform. As Executive Director, Norman Reimer led a professional staff based in Washington, DC, serving NACDL’s approximately 9,000 direct members and 90 local, state, and international affiliate organizations with up to 40,000 members. Through Norman’s vision and leadership, NACDL and the NFCJ saw an unprecedented period of expansion, including fundraising, resulting in more than doubling the size of staff and the annual budget. The expansion of the NFCJ’s fundraising activities during Reimer’s tenure made possible myriad groundbreaking projects, including reports, research, and policy and pro bono initiatives concerning the trial penalty, race and the criminal legal system, the right to counsel, clemency, public defense crises, the eroding intent requirement in the criminal law, the Fourth Amendment in the digital age, compassionate release, the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction, and much more. Prior to his appointment as Executive Director of NACDL and the NFCJ, Norman was a prominent criminal defense lawyer based in New York City for over 25 years. He also served in the New York State and American Bar Association Houses of Delegates and as President of the New York County Lawyers’ Association.

“Many of us got into the field of law because we wanted to create and strengthen justice in a country where justice may be a fundamental right, but there is way too little of it. Norm made it possible for many of us to do that and to do that better, along with helping thousands of individuals get a fairer shake in life,” said Deborah Leff, Former United States Pardon Attorney. “He helped the Justice Department to live up to its name, whether by organizing lawyers and NACDL members across the country to work for clemency for so many deserving individuals, or by identifying cases that could help fulfill the right to counsel and by pressing the Department of Justice to take a stand. Norm worked tirelessly to enable all of us to be a force for good, to create and strengthen justice. It is a legacy that he can be so proud of and that we are so grateful to him for creating.”

“We fielded more than 36,000 applicants for presidential clemency, and I discovered the ceramic sweet tooth that Norman keeps in his office. I saw firsthand the hard ceramic shell that is Norman Reimer, as together we fought for consideration of as many applicants as possible,” said Cynthia W. Roseberry, Former Project Manager for Clemency Project 2014. “I also observed the sweet inside when he had the opportunity to call an applicant to let them know that President Obama decided to send him home to his family…. He’s left that sweet tooth in the office for his staff, I believe as a reminder to savor the sweetness of victories in the fight for justice.”

“Over the years I’ve worked with Norman on Sixth Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment rights, Collateral Consequences, and more…Norman was always a great mentor and teacher on those issues,” said Mark Holden, Former General Counsel of Koch Industries. “He is someone you can always depend on, he’s a hard worker, and has a huge heart. He is the embodiment of what Fredrick Douglass once said: ‘I would unite with anyone to do good and no-one to do harm.’”

“Norm has truly been a guiding light for NACDL…he has influenced the Amicus Committee which is filing briefs all over the country; The Foundation, which has grown immensely and is able to do terrific work on behalf of our clients and the lawyers who are struggling to help our clients; and the trial penalty work that we've been able to do is important so that the criminal justice system works the way it should; and of course, the John Adams Project assisting lawyers who are working on Guantanamo cases,” said Nancy Hollander, NACDL Past President (1992-1993). “I can't say enough about Norm, he's a wonderful person and has been a terrific Executive Director.”

“Norm has been an amazing partner in the work we have done together on the South Carolina Misdemeanor issue, the Amicus briefs, Clemency Project 2014…but I think most importantly was the project that NACDL and the ACLU did together, the John Adams Project, to get the best criminal defense lawyers in the nation to do a patriotic service and defend the individuals charged in the Guantanamo Military Commissions,” said Anthony Romero, National Director of ACLU. “He has left a legacy and organization that has become a juggernaut for criminal law reform in the country.”


Kate Holden, NACDL Public Affairs and Communications Associate, (202) 465-7624 or

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.

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