The Defender Initiative

Robert C. BoruchowitzRobert C. Boruchowitz
Director and Professor from Practice

The Defender Initiative began in 2008 and is an unusual law school-based project aimed at providing better representation for people accused of crimes and facing loss of their liberty in juvenile and other court proceedings and in the process increase fairness in and respect for the courts. The Initiative also advocates for diversion and reclassification of some misdemeanor offenses, including possession of marijuana and suspended driver license cases. This can save money, improve the misdemeanor courts and reduce racial disparity in the criminal justice system. The Initiative is part of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, whose mission is to advance justice and equality through a unified vision that combines research, advocacy, and education.

The project, led by its Director, Robert C. Boruchowitz, will advance efforts to improve public defense representation for thousands of people in Washington and provide models for application in other states.

Through a combination of public education, research and writing, and strategic litigation, The Defender Initiative focuses on providing counsel in courts that do not currently provide lawyers and on reducing excessive defender workloads that threaten the effectiveness of the right to counsel, fostering a commitment to excellence in representation, and ensuring that defender lawyers with adequate resources are available and prepared to help accused persons at every stage of prosecution.

The Initiative has a partnership with The Sixth Amendment Center. Professor Boruchowitz was the lead researcher and co-author of a report published May 1 by the Sixth Amendment Center, "Justice Shortchanged--Assigned Counsel Compensation in Wisconsin". The report finds that in paying private assigned counsel either $40 per hour or in some cases a flat fee of approximately $248 per case, Wisconsin violates the ABA Ten Principles’ demand that appointed counsel be paid both a “reasonable fee” and “actual overhead expenses”. SU Law Professor Deirdre Bowen assisted on the project with statistical analysis and law students Nicole Beges and Phil Chinn provided research assistance.

Professor Boruchowitz, working with another law professor and two criminal justice professors, recently completed a report titled "AN ANALYSIS OF THE ECONOMIC COSTS OF SEEKING THE DEATH PENALTY IN WASHINGTON STATE." 

The Initiative recently completed a three-year misdemeanor right to counsel project with funding from the Open Society Foundations.  The Initiative worked in four states. The project persuaded judges and local governments to provide counsel at arraignments to eligible accused persons.  It also advocated for alternatives to traditional prosecution that requires counsel, and educate lawyers, judges, the public, and local government officials about the problem and demonstrate possible solutions.  Here is the link to Projects page.  The Initiative filed an amicus brief in an appeal and also filed a judicial misconduct complaint against a judge.

The Initiative also obtained funding from the Louisville Bar Foundation and the Louisville Public Defender to do related misdemeanor work in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Initiative also holds an annual Conference on Public Defense. The fifth annual conference will be held March 6, 2015.


Sullivan Hall