Divisions & Units

Training, Professionalism and Leadership Development

Kevin Hellmann, 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 Kevin Hellmann 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.

The Automation Training Unit (ATU) trains employees and volunteers to use the information system. ATU develops training and reference materials to provide the resources necessary for optimizing efficiency. ATU has developed an extensive forms bank, including letters, memoranda, orders, motions and affidavits.

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.

Felony Division

Guy Robinson, Chief Assistant Public Defender & General Counsel

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):

  • Lauren Dawson
  • Damaris Del Valle
  • Preeti Lala
  • Brian McCormack
  • Arthur McNeil

Felony Early Representation Unit

Aileen Penate-Hernandez, 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)

Karen Gottlieb, Capital Litigation Unit 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.

Juvenile Division

Marjorie Alexis, Chief Assistant Public Defender

The APDs in our Juvenile 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

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.

Specialized Representation Division

Gale Lewis, Senior Supervising Attorney

The Specialized Representation Division is composed of:

  • Felony Mental Health
  • Drug Court
  • Civil Mental Health Unit
  • Indefinite Civil Commitment Unit
  • Juvenile Sentencing Advocacy Program
  • Veteran’s Court

Felony Mental Health

The attorneys assigned to the Felony Mental Health Unit (FMH) represent clients who are found incompetent to proceed (ITP) or not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI). Before the finding of ITP or NGI, our Felony Division attorneys represent these clients. FMH attorneys are available to consult on the mental health and legal issues.

ITP and NGI clients may be committed to the Department of Children & Families (DCF) for treatment or training in a forensic state hospital, or they may be conditionally released for treatment or training in the community. FMH attorneys represent ITP clients at hearings to determine whether they’ve regained competency to proceed; whether they continue to meet commitment criteria; whether they have violated a conditional release plan; or whether because of on-going incompetency the charges should be dismissed. The FMH attorneys represent NGI clients at hearings to determine whether they continue to meet commitment criteria; whether they have violated a conditional release plan; or whether the court should terminate jurisdiction because they no longer need court supervision. They also represent these clients at involuntary treatment hearings.

Drug Court

Rather than a traditional trial court, Drug Court may be more properly regarded as a treatment program. No one is adjudicated in Drug Court. If a person has no criminal history and successfully completes the program, his or her case is nolle prossed (an announcement that the state is no longer going to prosecute the case). If the person has a criminal history and successfully completes the program, he or she would receive a withhold-of-adjudication on the charges. Depending on the criminal history, the person may be eligible to have their record sealed or expunged.

The Drug Court concept was pioneered in Miami-Dade County in response to the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980's and the resulting explosion of drug cases. It was a collaboration between the Public Defender’s Office, State Attorney’s Office and the Court. Because of its success, it has been the model for establishing some 600 drug courts across the country and around the world.

Civil Mental Health Unit

Civil Mental Health Unit attorneys are responsible for protecting the liberty interests of clients subject to involuntary placement proceedings who are not facing a prison or jail sentence. However, the client faces the deprivation of liberty by being held in a locked psychiatric hospital unit against his will.

The Public Defender established this innovative unit to safeguard the liberty interests of clients who suffer from mental illness or mental retardation. Dedicated, experienced attorneys on long-term assignment work in the division because these cases are complex and require specialized legal knowledge. Our APDs handle nearly all civil involuntary commitment and involuntary placement of persons with mental retardation cases within our jurisdiction, making sure that judicial hearings occur soon and that no one is held without due process and judicial review. These attorneys work to ensure that their clients’ rights are protected while they are patients in mental health facilities.

The attorneys assigned to the Civil Mental Health Unit are also involved in community activities and projects. The Public Defender believes that educating the public on the rights of our clients is essential to properly representing them in court. Among other things, the attorneys in this division work with groups like the Association for Retarded Citizens, the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities, the local Florida Department of Children and Families’ Health and Human Services Board, the Florida Supreme Court Commission on Fairness, and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Miami. The attorneys also give presentations on the Baker Act and patient's rights to legislators, physicians, social workers, medical students and other groups of professionals.

Indefinite Civil Commitment Unit

Florida law provides for the indefinite civil commitment of juveniles and adults who have served their sentences and who are classified as sexually violent predators. This law, commonly known as the Jimmy Ryce Act, authorizes judges to appoint the Public Defender to defend indigent people (respondents) that the state of Florida is seeking to commit for an extended period for care, treatment and control.

The Indefinite Civil Commitment Unit (ICCU) was formed to provide the necessary defense of individuals who qualify for confinement under the statute.

Juvenile Sentencing Advocacy Program (JSAP)

In 1998, in response to the large number of juveniles transferred to adult court (over 1,000 each year in Miami-Dade) the Public Defender established JSAP. Highly experienced attorneys are assigned to JSAP to represent clients “direct filed” to adult court. The JSAP attorneys also represents clients previously convicted when they were under 18, who are now eligible for relief under the Miller, Graham, and related court decisions.

Mitigation and Placement Unit

Teresa Enriquez, Executive Chief Assistant for Recruitment and Litigation
Elisa Quesada, Coordinator
Jennifer Rodrigue, Assistant Coordinator

Mitigation and Placement specialists are part of the defense team that supports attorney representation of our clients, including the Juvenile Sentencing Advocacy Project. In many of the cases our office handles, the clients have substance abuse, mental, developmental and emotional problems that can be successfully treated if properly identified and addressed by effective programs.

The 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.

Our Mitigation and Placement Specialists identify and evaluate community programs, and refer clients and their families to the most appropriate ones.

This comprehensive approach provides clients with treatment options and the opportunity to become productive, law-abiding citizens. Judges and prosecutors also benefit because they are provided with a more complete picture of the clients and sentencing alternatives that will benefit the community. Appropriate treatment reduces the likelihood that clients will re-offend and is less expensive than jail or prison.

Mitigation and Placement specialists are assigned to the felony, misdemeanor, and juvenile delinquency courts assisting our lawyers to identify and address issues such as: mental retardation, 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.

In County Court, the Mitigation and Placement Specialists assist in diverting mentally-ill clients from jail to a treatment program or facility.

Operations and Administration

Richard De Maria, Executive Chief Assistant Public Defender for Administration

Investigations Unit

Irma Bryant, 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 (also called paralegal) 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.