OVERVIEW

The Office of the Federal Defender for the Eastern District of California is authorized under Title 18 U.S.C. 3006A, the Criminal Justice Act to provide legal representation to persons financially unable to retain counsel in federal criminal and related proceedings. Representation includes counsel and investigative, expert and other services necessary for adequate defense.

The Federal Defender is appointed by the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for a four-year term and is statutorily responsible for the operation of the office, management of the office caseload, and the supervision of attorneys and other personnel. The Ninth Circuit's involvement with the office is essentially limited to appointment and evaluation of the Defender, approval of attorney staff size and authorization of the office itself. The Circuit Executive Office provides assistance and guidelines in a number of other administrative and personnel matters, such as EEO policies and procedures.

The Office includes the Federal Public Defender, the Chief Assistant Federal Defender, and staff attorneys known as Assistant Federal Defenders. They handle caseloads composed of federal misdemeanors, felonies, parole and probation violations, grand jury representations, direct appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, petitions for writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court and habeas corpus petitions.

The Federal Defender headquarters office is located in Sacramento. The Sacramento Office serves the following Counties: Alpine, Amador, Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Joaquin, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo, and Yuba. Sacramento is also the headquarters for the Capital Habeas Unit. The Unit represents state death row inmates in federal habeas corpus proceedings at both the federal district and appellate court levels.
The Fresno Branch Office serves the following Counties: Calaveras, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus, Tulare, and Tuolumne. Attorney supervision and administration are handled through Sacramento, with on-site supervision and administrative support provided by a supervisory attorney and a branch office administrator.
 
A one-person office at Yosemite National Park is staffed by temporary attorneys loaned by another Federal Defender Office or attorneys from the Sacramento Office during the summer season. The Yosemite Office is staffed from approximately the first of May to the end of September. When the office is not staffed, Yosemite cases are handled by attorneys in the Fresno branch office.
 
VALUES

Continue Learning

Every attorney is required, not merely encouraged, to learn and develop new skills. Every attorney is responsible for producing the best work and for encouraging the best work from every other person.

Diversity

We are committed to maintaining and promoting diversity in hiring, development, promotion and success of legal and non-legal personnel.

Serve our Community

A commitment to public service is an obligation of every attorney and non-attorney of the Federal Defenders Office.

MISSION / PHILOSOPHY

Members of the Federal Defender’s Office share a commitment to excellence and a passion for justice in representing indigent people accused of a myriad of federal criminal offenses. We provide quality legal representation and/or advice to individuals financially unable to employ counsel in
federal criminal cases and related matters in the federal courts. We are advocates for the poor – we want our legal system to be fair to all. Our mission is to exceed our clients’ expectations every day by providing the highest caliber of legal counsel and advice.
 
HISTORY

The Beginning

Roots of the right to counsel for the defendant who cannot afford to pay a private lawyer can be found more than a century ago. In Webb v. Baird, the Indiana Supreme Court in 1853 recognized a right to an attorney at public expense for an indigent person accused of crime, grounded in "the principles of a civilized society," not in constitutional or statutory law.

"It is not to be thought of in a civilized community for a moment that any citizen put in jeopardy of life or liberty should be debarred of counsel because he is too poor to employ such aid," the Indiana court wrote.

"No court could be expected to respect itself to sit and hear such a trial. The defense of the poor in such cases is a duty which will at once be conceded as essential to the accused, to the court and to the public."


The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense." The right to counsel in federal proceedings was well-established by statute early in the country's history, and was reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1938 in Johnson v. Zerbst. The Webb v. Baird decision, however, was the exception rather than the rule in the states.
 

Well into the 20th century, most states relied on the volunteer pro bono efforts of lawyers to provide defense for poor people accused of even the most serious crimes. While some private programs, such as the New York Legal Aid Society, were active as early as 1896 in providing counsel to needy immigrants, and the first public defender office began operation in Los Angeles in 1914, such services were non-existent outside of the largest cities.

The United States Court developed the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in state proceedings gradually and somewhat haltingly in the 20th century. In Powell v. Alabama the famous "Scottsboro Case" from the Depression era, the Court held that counsel was required in all state capital proceedings.

Only a decade later, however, in Betts v. Brady, the Court declined to extend the Sixth Amendment right to counsel to state felony proceedings. It was not until 1963, twenty-one years after Betts, that the Court again addressed the issue of the right to counsel in state proceedings involving serious non-capital crimes. In a dramatic series of decisions, the Supreme Court firmly established the right to counsel in virtually all aspects of state criminal proceedings.

The most significant decision on the right to counsel in Supreme Court history was Gideon v. Wainwright, which overruled Betts v. Brady. The Court unanimously held that an indigent person accused of a serious crime was entitled to the appointment of defense counsel at state expense.

The Ford Foundation provided support to National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) in 1962, providing its National Defender Project with $2.6 million in seed money to create offices for the defense of indigent clients. This grant presaged by a few months Gideon v.Wainwright, the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared that criminal defendants are entitled to legal defense regardless of their ability to pay for counsel.

The National Defender Project worked with state and local authorities, law schools, and federal agencies. Within the next few years Congress passed the Criminal Justice Act, which established standards of representation in federal courts and compensation for counsel called on to defend indigent defendants.

Four years later, with its decision in In re Gault, the Supreme Court built on the Gideon decision to extend to children the same rights as adults by providing counsel to the indigent child charged in juvenile delinquency proceedings. The right to counsel in trial courts was significantly expanded again when the Court, in Argersinger v. Hamlin, extended the right to counsel to all misdemeanor state proceedings where there is a potential loss of liberty.

The decisions in Gideon, Gault and Argersinger are the best known of the right-to-counsel cases in the Supreme Court, but they were part of a broader array of decisions rendered by the Court in the past three decades, all of which protect the right to counsel for people who cannot afford to hire a private lawyer. The Court recognized the low-income defendant's right to counsel at such critical stages of criminal proceedings as:

After conviction, the indigent defendant is constitutionally guaranteed the right to counsel in:

Finally, in any criminal proceeding in which counsel appears, the defendant is entitled to counsel's effective assistance, under Strickland v. Washington, decided in 1984.

1960s

In 1966, the Eastern District and Central Districts were created by dividing California into four judicial districts: Northern, Southern, Central and Eastern. The territory of the federal district and bankruptcy courts for the Eastern District of California encompasses 34 counties that are located from Kern County in the South to Siskiyou County in the North and lie between the Eastern slope of the Coastal range and the California/Nevada border. A local plan is adopted for each district which provides the procedure for assigned counsel for persons qualifying for court-appointed counsel.

 

The plan is administratively administered by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts through its Criminal Justice Act division. The Criminal Justice Act in the Eastern District of California is administered by the Office of the Federal Defender.

When the District was formed there was no Federal Defender (See also, A History of the Eastern District of California -- Then and Now). Counsel was appointed for indigent defendants by going through the yellow pages of the phone book. At the time of arraignment (which was done in District Court, since there were not magistrates yet), if a defendant stated that he did not have the funds to hire counsel, the clerk simply selected the next name in order from the phone book. A good clerk exercised some discretion in skipping over the names of some attorneys in the selection of attorneys in obviously complex cases. The process did serve to acquaint the courthouse staff with a number of probate, corporate and divorce attorneys into the court that might otherwise have never seen the inside of the federal courthouse, but it left something to be desired in the quality of representation afforded in many criminal cases.

1970s

In a move to enhance the quality of representation, the Office of the Federal Defender, Eastern District of California, Sacramento was created in 1971. The Fresno Branch Office of the Federal Defender was established in 1977 and services the Eastern Districts Southern Division.

E. Richard Walker was selected by the judges to be the first Federal Defender. He had been a law clerk to District Judge Oliver J. Carter of the Northern District, who had sat in Sacramento temporarily many times before the creation of the Eastern District.

He had served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Sacramento as well as the District Attorney of Trinity County, an Assistant Public Defender in Yolo County and a private attorney. Mr. Walker represented a diverse clientele, which included Charles Manson family member, Lynette "Red" "Squeaky" Fromme after her attempt to assassinate President Gerald Ford on September 5, 1975. Dick Walker retired July of 1987.

1980s

Arthur W. Ruthenbeck was appointed Federal Defender in August, 1987. Prior to coming back to California, he served as the Asst. Chief, Defender Services Division, Administrative Office, U.S. Courts, Washington, DC. Mr. Ruthenbeck also served as the Chief Asst. Federal Defender, and as an Asst. Federal Defender in both the Fresno Branch of the Office and in the San Francisco, Northern District Office, and as Deputy District Attorney, San Mateo County, California. Mr. Ruthenbeck received his J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of Law and received his B.A. from the University of San Francisco.

Mr. Ruthenbeck was instrumental in the Eastern District’s (and Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit’s approval) Adoption of the Criminal Justice Act Plan. The Plan sets out objectives, compliance and provisions for furnishing representation in federal court for any person financially unable to obtain counsel under CJA.

In addition to successfully defending many white collar criminal matters,

he was also successful in the resolution of the prisoner civil rights class action suit originally filed in 1979 against Sacramento County to improve inmate housing conditions at the Sacramento County Jail; thus resulting in the building of a new County Jail facility.


Mr. Ruthenbeck retired in June, 1996.

1990s

Quin Denvir was appointed Federal Defender June, 1996. Prior to becoming Federal Defender he was in private practice until 1996 and served as the State Public Defender from 1978 to 1984 and a year as a public defender in Monterey County. Prior to joining California Legal Assistance, a publically financed agency that represents the poor in civil matters, he worked at Covington & Burling, in Washington, DC in 1971.

Mr. Denvir graduated from University of Notre Dame; spent four years in the U.S. Navy and earned his master’s in economics at American University and received his J.D. from University of Chicago School of Law.

   
Mr. Denvir was lead counsel in the "Unabomber" Theodore Kaczynski trial. He has also represented former state schools chief William Honig in the appeal of his conflict-of-interest conviction, Michelle "Batgirl" Cummiskey, who was charged with the brutal slaying of a Sacramento man, and Reza Eslaminia who was charged in the Billionaire Boys Club murder of the former Iranian official who was his father. In addition to trials and appeals, Mr. Denvir has represented death row inmates in their federal habeas corpus proceedings.
 

In September, 1996, the nation’s second Capital Habeas Unit was funded and established in Sacramento. Members of the unit represent state capital prisoners in federal habeas corpus proceedings, brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2254, at the federal trial and appellate levels.

Mr Denvir retired in December of 2005

2000 - 2012

Daniel Broderick was appointed Federal Defender in January, 2006 and retired in 2012. He served as Chief Assistant since 1999 and Assistant Federal Defender since 1991. Prior to that he was of counsel at Berman & Clark in Santa Monica, CA. Mr. Broderick was a professor at Pepperdine University. He served as Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Central District and also served as Law Clerk to the Honorable Malcolm M. Lucas, U.S. District Judge. Mr. Broderick received his J.D. from Yale Law School and his B.A. from Stanford University.

Over three decades, of dedication and hard work, members of the Federal Defenders Office have consistently delivered legal advice, provided zealous representation, and have won victories for our clients in a broad range of complex and challenging civil and criminal cases, before the federal courts from the trial level through the United States Supreme Court.

     

It is our mission and goal to continue to do so.

 


           

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