The History of the Arizona Public Defenders Association

For years, Arizona public defenders talked about establishing a statewide organization devoted to their work and the improvement of indigent representation. On May 20, 2002, this goal was attained, when the Arizona Public Defender Association was incorporated.

The effort to create APDA began in earnest in September 2001, when eleven directors of Arizona county public defender offices met at a seminar in Scottsdale. All expressed interest in forming a statewide organization. At the next meeting, in December 2001, sixteen county public defenders and one city public defender attended, and the effort gained momentum. After several more meetings and some pro bono advice from our friends in civil practice, the APDA filed its Articles of Incorporation with the Arizona Corporation Commission in May 2002.

APDA’s initial Board of Directors included the heads of seventeen county public defender offices and the City of Phoenix Public Defender. One of the Board’s first decisions was that APDA should not be an organization exclusively for attorneys, but should recognize public defense support staff as full partners. The Board voted to add a Director to represent support staff interests.

The short-term goal of APDA was to improve communication and collaboration between public defense offices and programs around the state. To accomplish this, a list serve was established so that the directors of these offices and programs could quickly exchange ideas and information.

The long term goals of APDA are to promote the core values of indigent representation: providing high quality representation to our clients; enhancing the integrity of the criminal justice system; safeguarding our clients’ constitutional rights, and thereby preserving the rights of all; striving for dispositions that are effective in addressing our clients’ underlying problems, giving them the best chance of success; and making indigent representation a satisfying and rewarding career choice for attorneys, paraprofessionals, and support staff.

Since its inception, APDA has made great progress toward its goals. It has provided “the other side of the story” at the Arizona Legislature and has become the “go to” organization for the appointment of indigent defense representatives on commissions, committees and workgroups. APDA worked with the American Council of Chief Defenders and National District Attorneys’ Association to lobby Congress for student loan assistance for public defenders and prosecutors, an effort that resulted in the passage of the John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act of 2008. APDA then worked with the Administrative Office of the Courts to implement the John R. Justice Act and provided outreach services to public defenders throughout the state.

APDA developed and adopted attorney performance standards distilled from the best practices of defense offices and organizations across the country.

But by far the most significant impact has been made in the area of training. The APDA Annual Statewide Conference has become a staple of continuing legal education for Arizona attorneys, with over 1200 attorneys and staff attending each year. The conference provides exceptional training for attorneys of all experience levels and practice areas, and support staff in all functional categories. The conference showcases the immense talent of Arizona’s public defense practitioners while also including recognized national speakers.

APDA has made an amazing amount of progress in its short existence. It has brought the Arizona public defense community together in ways that were beyond its founders’ wildest dreams.