Divisions & Units

The Public Defender is assisted by the administrative team.

  • Teresa Enriquez, Executive Chief Assistant Public Defender, Assistant General Counsel and Capital Litigation Unit Co-Coordinator
  • Cynthia “Cindy” Guerra, Executive Chief Assistant Public Defender for Operations and Assistant General Counsel
  • Guy D. Robinson, General Counsel and Recruitment Director
  • Elisa Quesada, Chief Assistant Public Defender, Mitigation and Client Services Partnerships and Capital Litigation Unit Co-Coordinator
  • Damaris Del Valle, Chief Assistant Public Defender, Chief of the Felony Division
  • Maria Lauredo, Chief Assistant Public Defender, Chief of the Appellate Division
  • Natahly Soler, Chief Assistant Public Defender, Chief of the County Court Division
  • James Dubray, Training and Professionalism Director
  • Sonya Bellinger, Budget and Finance Director
  • Robert Yergeau, IT Director
  • Diane Yanez Ridgeway, HR Director
  • Claudia Carrazana-Lavastida, Senior Supervising Attorney, Early Representation
  • Bonita Jones-Peabody, Senior Supervising Attorney, Domestic Representation
  • Tara Khani, Senior Supervising Attorney, Chief of Children’s Defense Division
  • Liana Matthews, Senior Supervising Attorney, Felony Trial
  • Brian McCormack, Senior Supervising Attorney, Felony Trial
  • Tony Perkins, Senior Supervising Attorney, Felony Trial
  • Jennifer Rodrigue, Senior Supervising Attorney, Behavioral Health Division
  • Daniela Torrealba, Senior Supervising Attorney, Felony Trial
  • Robert Valdes, Senior Supervising Attorney, Felony Trial
  • Yanelis Zamora, Senior Supervising Attorney, Felony Trial
  • Irma Adekola, Chief Investigator
  • Hortensia “Tenzy” Blanco, Client Intake Unit Supervisor & Liaison for Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department

Operations and Administration

Cynthia “Cindy” Guerra, Executive Chief Assistant Public Defender for Operations and Assistant General Counsel

Investigations Unit

Irma Adekola, Chief Investigator

The investigator’s primary responsibility is to gather information from individuals and institutions and conceptualize the raw data into a form that is meaningful and useful to the attorney. Our office encourages its investigators to be independent thinkers who will apply common sense, training and life experiences to the resolution of problems in the preparation of the defense of a case.

Client Intake Unit

Tenzy Blanco, Supervisor

The intake interviewer's primary responsibility is to interview our clients and gather crucial information during the first 72 hours of a person's incarceration. This information is vital for the initial preparation of our client's defense. The interviewers gather factual, biographical, medical and other information for the assistant public defender to review and act upon.

Information Technology

Robert Yergeau, Director

The Information Technology unit maintains the computer hardware, software and network system of the Public Defender’s Office. Automation has been viewed as the key to enhanced employee productivity. Learn more about our integrated management information system, or read the Spanish version.

Our office, in accordance with state guidelines, has created an Information Resource Plan that describes our current system and projects our future needs. This plan is revised annually to reflect the rapid changes in automation technology that affect the course we take.

Felony Division

Damaris Del Valle, Chief Assistant Public Defender, Chief of the Felony Division

The APDs in the Felony Division handle cases for which clients may be sentenced to more than one year in prison if convicted. These cases include capital offenses, such as murder, rape or robbery. Learn more about the felony case process.

The capital litigation and major crimes attorneys handle the most serious felonies — those punishable by life imprisonment or death. In addition to handling individual case responsibilities, these highly-experienced trial attorneys mentor our newer APDs.

The attorneys in our Felony Mental Health Unit represent clients found to be incompetent to proceed due to mental illness, incompetent to proceed due to mental retardation or not guilty by reason of insanity.

Senior Supervising Attorneys (SSAs):

  • Liana Matthews
  • Brian McCormack
  • Tony Perkins
  • Daniela Torrealba
  • Robert Valdes
  • Yanelis Zamora

Felony Early Representation Unit

Claudia Carrazana-Lavastida, Senior Supervising Attorney

The Early Representation Unit (ERU) serve clients between arrest and arraignment, reduce costs associated with pre-trial incarceration and begin critical case preparation.

This unit intervenes early in the process by representing clients at their first appearance. The attorneys often argue for bond reductions, releases under the person’s own recognizance, release to pre-trial services (PTS), the PTS Monitored Release (electronic bracelet) Program or to the custody of a responsible family member.

During the course of early representation, the APDs interview clients to begin preliminary investigation into defenses while also advising clients about upcoming matters. The APDs also review arrest forms, begin the case investigation and, in appropriate cases, ask prosecutors to drop charges based on testimony from witnesses, case law and other factors. This effort assists in having cases and counts not filed, reduced to misdemeanors, or reduced to lesser degree felony counts. Such early intervention also helps to identify clients with medical or mental health needs who require immediate attention and, in some cases, the staff refers clients to our Mitigation and Placement Unit.

The ERU promotes a more cost-effective and efficient judicial process and saves Miami-Dade County taxpayers over $2 million a year.

Capital Litigation Unit (CLU)

Teresa Enriquez, Esq., Executive Chief Assistant Public Defender, Capital Litigation Co-Coordinator
Elisa Quesada, Esq., LCSW Chief Assistant Public Defender, Capital Litigation Co-Coordinator

The Capital Litigation Unit (CLU) provides competent, effective representation in the trial and sentencing phases of criminal cases in which the prosecution seeks the death penalty.

Professional standards, including those of the American Bar Association and National Legal Aid and Defender Association, dictate the extraordinary preparation required for effective representation in death penalty cases. To implement those standards, CLU is directly or indirectly involved in all capital cases in the office.

Intervention, Rehabilitation and Mitigation

Elisa Quesada, Esq., LCSW, Chief Assistant Public Defender, Mitigation and Client Services Partnerships
Jennifer Rodriguez, Esq., Senior Supervising Attorney, Behavioral Health Division 
Isis Hones, LCSW, Mitigation and Placement Coordinator
 
A multi-disciplinary team of attorneys, social workers, paralegals and experts are an integral part of our client representation. Many of our clients have experienced trauma, have substance use disorder or have mental illness or developmental/cognitive impairments that can be successfully treated if properly identified and addressed by effective programs. 

Our Mitigation and Placement Specialists conduct in-depth client interviews, assess client needs and interview relatives, school personnel and the staff of programs previously attended by the client. The disposition specialists can make referrals to psychologists, psychiatrists and other experts, develop and coordinate rehabilitative treatment plans, and prepare treatment and sentencing plans. They also identify and evaluate community programs and refer clients and their families to the most appropriate settings.

Mitigation and Placement specialists are assigned to the felony, misdemeanor, and juvenile delinquency courts assisting our lawyers in identifying and addressing issues such as: intellectual disability, mental illness, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, substance abuse, dual diagnosis (substance abuse and mental illness), homelessness, physical or sexual abuse, illiteracy and other special education needs, unemployment, parenting skills, anger control and sexual disorders.

Public Defender’s Behavioral Health Division
Staff provide specialized assistance to proactively identify our in-custody clients’ behavioral health needs, best advocate for them, and link them to services. Many clients want help for untreated mental health and substance abuse. Behavioral Health specialists provide support to clients and attorneys by conducting early screening of our clients through an intake assessment and through referrals from an APD. Through early identification and intervention, access to health and behavior records and screening for drug treatment needs, the Behavioral Health Division addresses the needs of our clients; working with jail staff and community providers to divert individuals with Serious Mental Illness or Substance Use Disorder from jail to appropriate treatment services, programs or facilities.

Jail Intake and Assessment
To assist with the coordination of services, the Unit leverages relationships with agencies, organizations and service providers to identify gaps and navigate outside services for our clients. The early identification of issues and needs assists clients in qualifying for release of custody, diversion programs or participation in Drug Court, Mental Health Court and Veterans Court. This early identification process and collaboration with the Homeless Trust and VA also facilitates addressing the needs of clients experiencing homelessness or who are unhoused, especially veterans.

This comprehensive approach provides clients with treatment options and the opportunity to improve their well-being and ability to live in our community. Appropriate treatment reduces the likelihood that clients will re-offend and is less expensive than jail or prison. Judges and prosecutors also benefit because they are provided with a more complete picture of the clients and sentencing alternatives that will benefit our clients and community. 

Baker Act
Attorneys in the Behavioral Health Division also represent individuals subjected to involuntary hospitalization through the Baker Act. If an individual is deemed to have a mental illness and is a harm to self, others or self-neglectful, that person could be admitted involuntarily to a short-term behavioral health hospital for examination and treatment for up to 72 hours. If the hospital staff believe the individual continues to be a danger to themselves or others after the examination period, they file a petition with the court and a hearing can be held for involuntary commitment to long-term hospitalization. Our office represents those patients at their hearings to ensure that they are not needlessly held against their will.

Drug Court and Felony Drug Diversion
Attorneys assist clients with Substance Use Disorders who qualify for drug court or diversion programs. The drug court is a judicially supervised, pre-trial and post-trial drug treatment program which provides substance abuse treatment and education to non-violent, drug involved clients. The program offers treatment alternatives monitored through the drug court that are designed to meet the needs of the client in successfully addressing substance use disorders. The program also provides a supportive client-centered approach to assist clients in living a clean and sober life.  

Veteran’s Treatment Court
Behavioral Health Division staff screen for eligibility for referral to the Veterans Treatment Court (VTC). The VTC is a judicially-monitored program of treatment and rehabilitation services for qualifying veterans. Upon entering VTC, the clients undergo an evaluation for a determination of services needed. Services include treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues, as well as providing housing solutions for the homeless. Most Veterans Court personnel are veterans themselves and the atmosphere is significantly less stressful than typical criminal courtrooms. Many clients are assigned mentors, a volunteer veteran who is available to talk about issues that arise and serve as a helpful spokesperson for the veteran with court personnel.

Criminal Court Mental Health Diversion and Mental Health Calendars
Judicial Diversion Programs (JDP) provide mental health treatment, including case management, medication management, psychosocial rehabilitation, and shelter, under judicial monitoring with the goals of supporting clients in developing insight, stability, and achieving community re-integration. JDP is available for clients with a major mental illness diagnosis who have low-level, non-violent felony charges or who have misdemeanors in county court. Admission to JDP can be on a pre- or post-adjudicatory basis. County court also conducts mental health calendars for clients who are incompetent or who are receiving Involuntary Outpatient Services. 

Children’s Defense Division

Tara Khani, Senior Supervising Attorney, Chief of the Children’s Defense Division

The APDs in our Children’s Defense Division represent children under 18 years of age who are charged with committing a delinquent act, that is, an act that would be considered a criminal offense if done by an adult. Learn more about the juvenile case process.

The juvenile delinquency laws are designed to protect the public by providing an individualized mix of discipline and treatment appropriate for the child. This approach is intended to help to re-integrate troubled children into society.

Our office works to ensure that each child’s rights are protected and that the government meets the child’s needs in a system intended to be "child-centered." To that end, the APDs, mitigation specialists and investigators not only prepare the defense of the case, but work together to identify and address each child’s unique needs.

County Court Division

Natahly Soler, Chief Assistant Public Defender, Chief of the County Court Division

The judges in County Court appoint the Public Defender to represent people charged with misdemeanor offenses who are not represented by private counsel and face the possibility of incarceration.

Misdemeanors are crimes punishable by less than one year in jail. Misdemeanor offenses include prostitution, resisting arrest without violence, shoplifting, animal cruelty, trespassing and charges considered to be domestic violence offenses. Most criminal traffic offenses, such as driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license are also misdemeanors. Visit the Clerk of the Courts for additional information about traffic violations.

Domestic Representation Unit (DRU)

Bonita Jones-Peabody, Senior Supervising Attorney

The APDs assigned to the Domestic Representation Unit represent people who are charged with misdemeanor crimes involving domestic violence in domestic violence court. Misdemeanor domestic violence offenses are assaults or batteries, stalking and violation of injunctions between husbands and wives, people who live together, romantic couples, or people who have a child together.

Under Florida law, domestic violence includes any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another who is or was residing in the same single dwelling unit.

Felony domestic violence cases are handled by our Felony Division.

Training and Professionalism

James Dubray, Director

The office holds a national reputation for excellence by setting the highest professional standards for recruiting and training attorneys and support staff. We have a nationwide recruitment program that emphasizes training and professional development.

Training Director James Dubray is responsible for recruiting volunteers and certified legal interns as well as training all staff, including assistant public defenders (APDs). He also assigns and supervises certified and non-certified legal interns and coordinates the presentation of in-house seminars and training workshops.

Our office keeps up with the latest developments in the legal and scientific fields, and shares that knowledge with staff through a law library and a formal office-wide training program that is considered one of the finest in the country. As part of our continuing legal education, we regularly hold in-house lectures and demonstrations, and send our APDs to seminars and trial practice institutes across the nation.

The office offers other learning opportunities to our APDs, mitigation and placement specialists and investigators by regularly organizing lectures and demonstrations, many featuring speakers from outside the office.

Our formal attorney training program begins with an intensive one-week schedule of lectures, demonstrations, and hands-on interactive training for new lawyers and participants in our law-student intern program. The strength of our office is, in part, derived from the willingness of our APDs to share their knowledge and experience with new members. Most of our more experienced APDs have been instructors in the program.

For attorneys, the program continues with the assignment of an experienced trial lawyer, as a training attorney, to provide one-on-one assistance to the new lawyer. This supportive environment affords the new lawyer the opportunity to gain knowledge and develop skills at an advanced rate.

One of our most effective training tools is the informal discussions that occurs among our attorneys about their cases and the law. Our APDs share a strong commitment to providing quality representation to our clients.

In short, while our APDs handle their own caseloads with a good deal of autonomy, we aim to provide the learning experiences and environment necessary for them to do so in a highly competent and professional manner.

Appellate Division

Maria Lauredo, Chief Assistant Public Defender

The Appellate Division handles appeals arising from felony, misdemeanor, juvenile and mental health cases of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit and County Court of Miami-Dade County, and the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Monroe County. The division also handles direct capital appeals before the Supreme Court of Florida. In addition, the appellate attorneys file extraordinary writs where appropriate.

The APDs assigned to the Appellate Division primarily represent clients appealing their convictions and sentences. The appellate attorneys review the transcripts of trial court proceedings to identify and research possible legal errors that may have violated the client’s rights during pre-trial, trial or sentencing proceedings. The attorneys prepare written briefs and submit them to the state and federal appellate courts. They also present oral arguments to appellate judges.