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Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta joined Director Rachel Rossi of the Office for Access to Justice (ATJ) in Des Moines, Iowa, today as part of the Department’s National Public Defense Day Tour to recognize the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, which held that criminal defendants are entitled to counsel when facing felony charges and celebrate the role of public defenders in the American legal system.
Associate Attorney General Gupta and Director Rossi met with Iowa Supreme Court Justice Matthew McDermott, who is also the Chair of the Iowa Access to Justice Commission, about the Commission’s work to help individuals struggling with fully accessing Iowa’s justice system. They also met with Iowa State Public Defender Jeff Wright, who hosted the visit and helped lead a listening session with local leaders about the issues facing the indigent defense bar in Iowa, including high caseloads and low pay, recruitment and retention concerns, and particular challenges facing attorneys in rural areas. Associate Attorney General Gupta and Director Rossi were joined at the listening session by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa Richard Westphal.
The Associate Attorney General announced during the listening session an initiative to help the Justice Department connect with and address the needs of public defenders in communities across the country, with the creation of a new attorney position in ATJ dedicated to supporting, collaborating with, and engaging the state and local public defense community.
The department’s National Public Defense Day Tour has also made stops in Miami; Tulsa, Oklahoma; the Muscogee (Creek) Nation; Nashville, Tennessee; and Las Vegas. The tour will conclude on Friday at the Justice Department with an event recognizing federal, state and local public defenders that will be livestreamed for the public.
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta (left center) with Access to Justice Director Rachel Rossi (left), Iowa State Public Defender Jeff Wright (right center) and Iowa Supreme Court Justice and Chair, Access to Justice Commission Matthew McDermott (right).
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta (mid, center), Access to Justice Director Rachel Rossi (left, center), U.S. Attorney Rich Westphal (right, center) and others participate in a listening session with members of the public defense community.