Ilham (Illy) Askia is executive director of Gideon’s Promise, a non-profit public defender organization whose mission is to transform the criminal justice system by building a movement of public defenders who provide equal justice for marginalized communities.
In this capacity, Askia has oversight of the organization’s daily operations, annual budget, strategic plan, personnel, fundraising, board development, and regulatory compliance. She is also responsible for maintaining the infrastructure that supports the programs and services that distinguish the organization as the only public defender advocacy organization that supports public defenders at every career stage. The organization’s six major programs are executed in partnership and for the benefit of 104 partner, statewide and affiliate public defender offices across 29 states and the United States Virgin Islands and 22 law schools. In five years, Askia moved the organization from an annual revenue of $800,000 to $2 million. She has also raised $3.8 million in government and foundation grants and $789,000 in corporate and philanthropic sponsorship to date.
Under Askia’s leadership Gideon’s Promise has won numerous awards including, but not limited to, Stephen B. Bright Public Defender Award, Emory University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award, Southern Center for Human Rights’ Gideon’s Promise Award, The National Association of Sentencing Advocates and Mitigation Specialists Sentencing Project Award and the American College of Trial Lawyers Emil Gumpert Award. The organization also served as the inspiration for the award-winning HBO documentary Gideon’s Army. She is also a member of Leadership Atlanta, is a member of the Society of International Business Fellows Board of Directors and has been honored with the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Inspiring Woman Award, and the Atlanta Hawks Most Notable Atlantan.
Askia’s passion for criminal and social justice reform is rooted back to her childhood. When she was a youth, her father was sent to prison and his absence drastically changed the course of her life. She began her career in education serving on numerous leadership teams and curriculum development committees. She believed that early childhood intervention would be the key to disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. Over time, the inequities she witnessed in education and the criminal justice began to intersect. These experiences led Askia to realize that the socioeconomic forces that lead to crime disproportionately in poor neighborhoods and communities of color were too powerful to be stopped by educators alone. When children fall through the cracks, the last line of defense between them and an uncaring, punitive legal system is a public defender. For that reason, she and her husband, Jonathan Rapping, founded Gideon’s Promise. Her goal is to provide public defenders the intellectual and emotional support they need to best care for their clients so that they are seen as vessels of possibility instead of bodies to process.
Askia earned a Bachelor of Science degree in City & Regional Planning from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and a Master’s of Early Childhood and Elementary Education from Trinity University in Washington D.C.
Partner Tracey L. Brown joined The Cochran Firm in 2003 and has spearheaded the firm’s Employment Law practice area. She specializes in employment discrimination, civil rights, and police misconduct matters. Her vigorous representation has resulted in multiple million - dollar settlements and verdicts. Prior to joining The Cochran Firm Ms. Brown was Senior Counsel at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington D.C. where she litigated consumer fraud cases. She also served as a Deputy District Attorney for the County of Los Angeles. A graduate of Boston College and St. John’s University Law School, she is licensed to practice law in New York, California, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania. In addition to her legal work, Ms. Brown is the author of the best - selling book, “The Life and Times of Ron Brown'', a biography of the late U.S. Secretary of commerce Ronal H. Brown. Active in many civic and philanthropic organizations, Ms. Brown serves on the Board of Directors of the National Child Labor Committe e, FuturePac, and the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John’s University Law School.
Attorney Mawuli Mel Davis, a co-founder of the Davis Bozeman Law Firm, leads the Firm’s Criminal Defense and Trial Divisions. He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and Georgia State University’s College of Law. Attorney Davis co-founded the Davis Bozeman Law Firm in 2007 with his friend and law school classmate, Attorney Robert Bozeman, who leads the firm’s Civil Division. The Davis Bozeman Law Firm handles personal injury, wrongful death, criminal defense, and civil rights cases. With a combined 25 years of experience practicing law, The Davis Bozeman law firm is a community-based firm. In August of 2012 Attorney Davis was selected as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyer Magazine. This is one of the highest honors that an Attorney under forty or with less than ten years in practice can receive. Less than 3% of lawyers in Georgia receive this honor. Last year, Attorney Davis was named Civil Rights Attorney of the Year by the Gate City Bar Association and currently, Attorney Davis is a reoccurring legal guest commentator on truTV’s In Session. Attorney Davis is described as an “activist attorney” because of his passionate work in the community and advocacy in the courtroom to save young African American men.
Advocacy is more than just aligning yourself with a cause-it is making an impact on the lives of those that need it the most. Growing up in the South Bronx, Mr. Dominguez developed a keen perception of the systemic cycles that prevent communities from enjoying a safe environment in which to prosper and raise children. Fueled by his past experiences and driven by his desire to do justice, he rose from difficult circumstances, attended the State University of New York at Buffalo and worked tirelessly to position himself to become a voice of the voiceless.
Mr. Dominguez began his career as a social worker serving the mentally-ill and homeless in Atlanta. He also worked as a counselor on Georgia’s suicide hotline. It was these early years in mental health that provided the training he needed to communicate persuasively with tact and compassion. After law school at Western Michigan University, he clerked for then Chief Judge Anne Barnes of the Georgia Court of Appeals. Later, he became a criminal defense attorney, before leaving his practice to become a state prosecutor. As a prosecutor, he acquired significant jury trial experience. Despite his tremendous success in the courtroom, he acquired a reputation for being a conscientious prosecutor, discerning in creating opportunities for those in need of a second chance. His work as a prosecutor spans several metro Atlanta counties, including Rockdale, DeKalb, and Clayton, where he investigated and prosecuted a variety of felonies, from bank fraud to child molestation and homicide. Mr. Dominguez also enjoyed the honor and distinction of becoming the first Latino prosecutor in the history of those judicial circuits.
Mr. Dominguez later transitioned to civil litigation, joining Thomas Kennedy Sampson and Tompkins LLP as defense counsel for several major corporations and insurance companies to include MARTA and AMFAM. Today, as a Partner at the largest Plaintiff’s firm in the Country, Morgan & Morgan, he specializes in personal injury, negligent security and civil rights cases, where he has carved out a reputation for turning traditionally under-valued cases into six and seven figure judgments. His colleagues affectionately refer to him as “The Denominator” as a result of his significant contributions to the success of various trial teams. Mr. Dominguez is most passionate about his work fighting police brutality and on behalf of victims of violent crime, who have been killed in crime ridden neighborhoods, while apartment complex and motel owners profit. Time and time again, his secret weapon at trial has been his own personal hardships and unique perspective, which enable him to empathize with his clients’ struggles in a meaningful way and allow him to speak in an authentic and passionate voice on behalf of his clients.
Mr. Dominguez is an absolute game-changer in the courtroom, but he is equally as fierce out in the community. Known as an attorney-activist, he is often called upon to serve on legal teams addressing social injustices on behalf of community members. Mr. Dominguez has served as an advisor to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, as part of her Progressive Agenda Working Group, Commission on Criminal Justice Reform and on a special task force to help reconstruct the Atlanta Police Department's Use of Force Policies. Always mindful of his own humble beginnings, he provides pro bono legal services to youthful offenders, using his experience as a prosecutor to provide at-risk youth a second chance at becoming productive members of society by way of having their criminal records expunged. He is frequently asked to speak at schools, youth detention centers, and gang summits, sharing his experiences as an at-risk youth turned lawyer, community-leader, and father; constantly challenging young people to dream well beyond their immediate circumstances. Mr. Dominguez’ work with young people has also involved serving on various non-profit boards, to include The Black Man Lab, Let Us Make Man, and Globe Academy. He has also served on the board of DeKalb Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, where he provided pro bono legal services for victims of domestic violence. His leadership includes serving as President of the DeKalb Lawyers Association and serving on the State Bar of Georgia's Committee Seeking Equal Justice and Addressing Racism and Racial Bias, as well as, the Bar’s Advisory Committee on Legislation, which proposes legislation to the Georgia State Senate. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Dominguez has been admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States of America. He has been recognized as one of Super Lawyers’ Rising Stars, Georgia Trend Magazine’s 40 under 40 Best and Brightest, National Bar Association’s 40 under 40 Nation’s Best Advocates, DeKalb Lawyers Association’s Legal Warrior, Latino Leaders Magazine’s Top Latino Lawyers in the Country, National Trial Lawyers’ Top 100 Trial Lawyers, and National Law Journal’s 2021 Plaintiff’s Lawyer Trailblazers.
Basil Eleby is an Atlanta native, where he was born into a family of six children. As a young child, Basil experienced abuse by a family “friend”. Eventually, Basil and his siblings were placed in foster care for over a year. At the age of 21, Basil began a battle with drug addiction and homelessness, which lasted for over 20 years. In the spring of 2017, Basil was falsely accused of starting a fire that resulted in the collapse of a portion of the I-85 expressway. Realizing that Basil was being made a scapegoat by the criminal justice system, a team of attorneys and community activists came together to fight Basil’s charges and provide him with support. Basil always maintained that he was innocent of the crimes he was charged. After he was released on bond and provided emergency housing, Basil began his road to recovery. Basil entered a behavioral and community court program that he successfully completed after 2 years. Basil has been working to maintain employment while remaining clean and sober for nearly 4 years. His inspiring story of recovery and redemption has been highlighted by media outlets around the country. Basil has been invited to speak at colleges and conferences about his life’s journey. Basil’s determination and fortitude has been recognized by the Southern Center for Human Rights, Black Man Lab, and Let Us Make Man.
Devin is a native of Decatur, Georgia and a graduate of Hampton University and Mercer Law School. He currently is Senior Assistant Public Defender at the Office of the Circuit Defender in Atlanta, where he has worked since graduating from Mercer Law. Devin is a faculty member for both the Gideon's Promise training program and the Georgia Public Defender's Council's Advance Practice Workshop. He has presented to the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyer. In January 2020, he received the Gideon's Promise 2020 Foot Soldier Award for his commitment and service in advancing the indigent defense.
Keeda Haynes, lawyer and former public defender, is looking to make history in Tennessee’s upcoming primary election on August 6.
The 42-year-old Democrat, who is looking to represent Tennessee’s fifth district in Congress, is running against Democratic candidate Joshua Rawlings and longtime Democratic congressman Rep. Jim Cooper, who has represented the district, which includes Nashville, for 17 years.
If Haynes wins, she could become the first Black congresswoman to represent the state; Tennessee has only elected two Black people to Congress in the past.
Haynes, who served six-and-a-half years as an assistant public defender at the Metro Nashville Public Defender’s Office, currently works as a legal adviser for Free Hearts, a nonprofit organization in Tennessee that provides support, education and advocacy to families impacted by the criminal justice system. Her commitment to fighting for criminal justice reform is one that’s very personal as the Tennessee State University graduate spent nearly four years in jail after college for a marijuana-related crime she says she did not commit.
Keeda Haynes is running to represent Tennessee’s fifth congressional district in Congress.Photo credit: Keeda Haynes
Upon her release from prison in December 2006, the Tennessee native set her sights on becoming a public defender after hearing other women in prison share stories about how their public defenders were treating them.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to have a private attorney and he was great,” she tells CNBC Make It. “Seeing how he was with me really set the bar for the type of lawyer I wanted to be as a public defender. And, I said I wanted to be able to give people the same level of representation that my attorney gave me, but I wanted to give it to the people who couldn’t afford to pay for it.”
Haynes started working as a legal assistant for the attorney who represented her while putting herself through law school at the Nashville School of Law at night. After graduating law school in 2012 and passing the bar exam, Haynes then had to pass the character and fitness examination by the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners. In December 2012, she became a practicing attorney in Nashville.
That following year, in 2013, she started working at Nashville’s public defender’s office, where she remained for six and a half years. “It was there,” she says, “at the public defender’s office, where I was talking with my clients and speaking with other people in the community, that I realized there were so many things going on in people’s lives that no one was doing anything about.”
A few years ago, she says she wrote a letter to Congressman Jim Cooper, who she’s running against in the primary, offering to volunteer with him and other members of Congress to work on criminal justice reform.
“We met for 15 minutes and I never heard from him again,” Haynes says, adding that since Cooper has been in office she doesn’t believe enough focus has been given to the criminal justice system in their district.
Cooper confirmed with CNBC Make It that Haynes did in fact send him a letter in 2016. At the time, he says, “I was already working on voting rights issues — including restoration of rights for formerly incarcerated individuals — so we had a good discussion. I have continued to work with local judges and our DA on these issues, and we are making progress in Nashville. Our correspondence continued when my office followed up to assist her with a tour of the White House.”
Keeda Haynes is running to represent Tennessee’s fifth congressional district in Congress.Photo credit: Keeda Haynes
Beyond the inaction that Haynes feels she’s seen in her home state, the former public defender says if elected to Congress she wants to also work on making adjustments to the criminal justice system on a national level.
“When you look at what’s going on in the federal system when it comes to the mandatory minimum sentencing law, we are seeing a record number of people being locked up,” she says. “The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and we still have not reconciled what the fictitious war on drugs has done to Black and Brown communities.”
In addition to focusing on criminal justice reform, Haynes says if elected to Congress she wants to work on fixing the “health-care crisis we’re experiencing now”as there are currently a record number of people living without health insurance.
“People are having to make the necessary decisions about whether they’re going to be purchasing the medicine they need or whether they’re going to pay their mortgage or car payments,” she says. “Those are issues that I don’t think people should have to consider. I think health care is human rights and we need people in Congress who are going to act upon that.”
Additionally, Haynes says she plans to fight for economic justice by raising the $7.25 minimum wage rate in her district to at least $15 per hour in order to “help people lift themselves out of poverty.” Doing this, she says, will also make housing more affordable for those who are working low-wage jobs.
“I want to go to Congress and I want to look at all of these policies and procedures involved from the lens of being an African American, someone who’s been formerly incarcerated, someone who was a public defender and someone who’s an advocate,” she says. “I want to address the systemic racism we’re seeing not just in the criminal justice system, but across every aspect of our lives so that we can all experience the healing and justice that people are calling for in their communities.”
Though her election will be a historic one if she wins, Haynes says her focus isn’t on making history, but rather on making real change in her district.
“Being the first anything doesn’t mean anything to me,” she says. “What I want people to remember me as is not just being the first African American female from this district, but being the first African American female from this district that went to Congress and got things done for people in this district because being the first means nothing if you’re not going to fulfill the duty of the position that you’re the first in.”
Atteeyah Hollie is SCHR’s Managing Attorney for impact litigation. She formerly served as a Senior Staff Attorney in SCHR’s Impact Litigation Unit (ILU). Atteeyah originally joined SCHR as an Investigator in the ILU for four years before returning in 2010 as an Initiative for Public Interest Law at Yale Fellow.
Atteeyah has litigated cases challenging the denial of the right to counsel for poor Georgians, illegally closed courtrooms, wealth-based detention, inhumane prison conditions, and the denial of utility services because of court debt.
In addition, Atteeyah, along with Managing Attorney Patrick Mulvaney, has spearheaded SCHR’s efforts to end extreme sentencing in Georgia.
Atteeyah is a 2010 graduate of Gideon’s Promise and currently assists the organization with training public defenders. She was named a 2017 “On the Rise” Georgia lawyer by the Fulton County Daily Report. She received her B.A. in History from Dartmouth College in 2002, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law in 2010, and is a member of the Georgia bar.
For nearly a decade, Scott served as a public defender in Brooklyn, representing people charged with crimes who couldn’t afford an attorney, but also long shared his perspective as a public defender outside of court in a variety of media to shift the narrative and drive systemic change. After years serving as Director of Policy at Brooklyn Defender Services, Scott is now focusing all of his time directing Zealous.
Scott co-founded the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund and has designed multiple new media advocacy films and campaigns. Scott speaks widely, guest lectures at law schools and universities, including Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown, and NYU, and his work and commentary are regularly featured in a range of outlets. Scott has advised on major criminal justice media projects and campaigns for Global Citizen, Vera Institute of Justice, Brennan Center, Pew Trusts, Represent Justice, and This American Life.
Raj Jayadev is a community organizer creating a model of grassroots collective action that gives individuals facing incarceration, their families, and their communities an active role in their defense. Jayadev’s work in criminal justice reform has grown out of his social activism work with Silicon Valley De-Bug (De-Bug), an organization he co-founded in 2001. De-Bug began as a magazine about issues affecting low-wage manufacturing, temporary workers, and it has since evolved into a multidimensional platform for community organizing, social justice advocacy, and multimedia storytelling by low-income, minority, incarcerated, and other disenfranchised communities.
De-Bug’s most notable initiative is the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project (ACJP) and its “participatory defense” model. Participatory defense adapts community organizing principles to criminal justice reform; it brings together a network of community members to help families navigate a complex criminal justice system and to enable chronically under-resourced public defenders to more effectively defend their clients. Participants assist in the case discovery process, review allegations and evidence, and help construct humanizing personal biographies and videos of defendants. The practical support for attorneys and empowerment conferred on defendants and their families through participatory defense often prevents individuals from taking plea bargains out of ignorance or expediency. Former defendants and their family members often continue to volunteer with ACJP at the conclusion of their cases, using the knowledge they gained to assist and advocate for other families.
Participatory defense is now spreading beyond California. Hubs have been established in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Tennessee as part of the National Participatory Defense Network, and Jayadev is conducting training workshops in communities across the United States. Collectively, the hubs have saved nearly 4,000 years of potential prison terms for defendants through cases won or reduced sentences. De-Bug is also expanding its advocacy efforts for systems-level change in the justice system, engaging in campaigns around bail reform, sentencing reform, and police accountability. By empowering ordinary people to take collective action in the defense of low-income individuals, Jayadev is addressing a critical issue in criminal justice reform—the imbalance of power between prosecutors and overworked public defenders.
Raj Jayadev received a B.A. (1998) from the University of California at Los Angeles. He co-founded Silicon Valley De-Bug in 2001 and continues to serve as coordinator and an organizer with the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project. He has contributed to the San Jose Mercury News and Huffington Post and is co-editor of De-Bug: Voices from the Underside of Silicon Valley (2016).
Christian Lamar is a Capital Trial Attorney and the Capital Conflicts Director for the Georgia Capital Defender and the Supervising Attorney of the Metro Capital Defender (MCD) based in Atlanta, GA. MCD is a satellite office of the Georgia Capital Defender (GCD) that handles death penalty conflict cases and solo capital cases throughout the Atlanta metro area and the state of Georgia. Before coming to GCD in 2005 Christian was a staff attorney at the Federal Defender Office in Greenbelt, MD from 2003 to 2004. From 1994 to 2003 Christian worked at the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia (PDS) as a staff attorney, felony supervisor, and as the first supervising attorney and Co-Chief of PDS’ inaugural Community Defender Office. Christian graduated from Northeastern University School of Law in 1993. He received his undergraduate degree with honors from LeMoyne-Owen College, a historically Black college located in Memphis, TN in 1990. Christian served in the United States Army from 1979 to 1986 as an infantryman in airborne, mechanized, and light infantry units and achieved the rank of Sergeant E-5 during his honorable service.
In 2016 Christian and his team at MCD were able to secure a Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentencing verdict in a death penalty trial in Fulton County. Christian’s client, Mr. Charmon Sinkfield, was on trial for the murder of world championship boxer Mr. Vernon Forrest. The jury deliberated less than 30 minutes before returning the Life Without Parole verdict.
In September of 2020 the Southern Center for Human Rights honored GCD with its prestigious Vanguard Award for GCD’s great work defending indigent capital clients in GA. Christian’s office reduced the death sentence rate in GA from approximately 10 death sentences a year before 2005 to 9 death sentences handed down in GA in the last 15 years. From 2014 to 2021 there have been not been any death sentences given in GA where GCD represented an indigent client.
As the Managing Partner of The Cochran Firm Orlando, Channa Lloyd concentrates and focuses her practice in the areas of family law, motor vehicle accidents, commercial motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death and civil rights violations. Originally from Miami, Florida she graduated from Florida International University with an undergraduate degree in Management Information Systems and then attended Barry University School of Law. With experience in areas of technology and law, Channa is a frequent speaker on legal technology to legal organizations and associations.
When Aisha McWeay was a little girl, she didn’t know that she would grow up to be a lawyer.
Like most little kids, her dreams varied.
“I wanted to be a singer, a fashion designer, a doctor … .”
In her preteen and teen years, “I just knew I wanted to be a businesswoman,” she said.
But even as McWeay — now the executive director of Still She Rises-Tulsa, a legal defense practice dedicated exclusively to representing mothers in the criminal and civil judicial systems — went off to college and became a lawyer, she never anticipated that her work would be in the nonprofit sector.
“In my rebuking of the patriarchy, I just knew I wanted to be a businesswoman with a male assistant and a corner office,” she said. “But that was my petty phase.”
Instead, she spent a decade in Nashville’s Public Defender’s Office, including nearly two years as the deputy public defender. It was there that she found her calling, so to speak.
When McWeay was approached in June 2018 at a public defenders conference by Still She Rises about the Tulsa opportunity, it was hard to consider. But not for long.
“I very intentionally, from my perspective, came to Still She Rises last year because the organization had really good bones,” she said. “I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to go somewhere where the needs were great, where the problems were really profound … and take some of the knowledge and skills I had gained and implement that here.”
McWeay regrets that in her present role, she doesn’t get to represent individual clients.
But “every day that I do my job well is another day that we get to help clients,” she said. “We get the privilege to see clients with dignity and treat them with respect when most people and systems they interact with do not.”
McWeay said the backing of friends and mentors — especially women who support women — is important.
“One way is to eliminate the idea of competition,” she said. “I grew up knowing that there’s enough sun for everybody. What one person accomplishes doesn’t diminish what is happening for you.”
Jonathan Rapping is a nationally renowned criminal justice innovator who is the founder and president of Gideon’s Promise, a non-profit public defender organization whose mission is to transform the criminal justice system by building a movement of public defenders who provide equal justice for marginalized communities.
Since its inception in 2007, Gideon’s Promise has grown from a single training program for sixteen attorneys in two public defender offices in Georgia and Louisiana to a national enterprise with over 1,000 participants in 104 partner, statewide and affiliate public defender offices across 29 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The organization’s initial three-year program for new public defenders has expanded into the only comprehensive program model that supports public defenders at all levels of their career. The organization now has programming for new lawyers, supervisors, chief defenders, trainers, law students considering a career in public defense and the clinical instructors who teach them.
In addition to Rapping’s leadership of Gideon’s Promise, he is Professor of Law and Director of the Criminal Justice Certificate Program at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School and Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard University Law School. He is a frequent contributor to national conversation on criminal justice reform and has been featured by numerous media outlets that include The New York Times: The Washington Post; Huffington Post; Huffpost Live; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Mother Jones; Essence and NPR stations across the country. Rapping has been a speaker at TEDx Atlanta; a frequent presenter to public defender and criminal defense organizations nationally; and routinely lectures at law schools across the country. Notably, Rapping and his work with public defenders was the inspiration for the award-winning HBO documentary “Gideon’s Army.”
He has also written extensively on issues related to criminal justice reform and has been published in numerous scholarly and professional journals. His contributions have been published by the National Association of Public Defense; Talk Poverty; The Nation; The Champion; Justice Watch; The Advocate; and Congressional Quarterly Research to name a few. Additionally, Rapping is the co-host of Gideon’s Promise: The Podcast available on Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, Apple Podcasts, & www.gideonspromise.org/media/podcasts.
Rapping is the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant; the American College of Trial Lawyers Emil Gumpert Award; Harvard Law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellowship; Cardozo Law School Inspire Award; and the George Soros Open Society Fellowship along with many other honors and recognitions. Rapping and Gideon’s Promise have received the National Alliance of Sentencing Advocates and Mitigation Specialists Sentencing Project Award; Southern Center for Human Rights Gideon’s Promise Award; and Emory University MLK Jr. Community Service Award.
He received a J.D. from George Washington University School of Law; a M.P.A. from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University; and a B.A. from University of Chicago. He is the author of Gideon’s Promise: A Public Defender Movement to Transform Criminal Justice. The book is published by Beacon Press.
Tiffany Williams Roberts joined SCHR in April 2018 as the Community Engagement & Movement Building Counsel. Tiffany Roberts is a civil rights and criminal defense attorney in Atlanta. She has practiced criminal defense since 2008, first as a public defender with the Atlanta Judicial Circuit Public Defender and later as a solo practitioner beginning in 2011. As a public defender, Tiffany represented hundreds of indigent clients facing felony prosecution and graduated from the Gideon’s Promise trial advocacy training program. She expanded her private practice to include civil rights litigation for victims of police abuse.
A significant portion of Tiffany’s practice is dedicated to pro bono representation of activists and organizers. She has been recognized by the Atlanta NAACP, DeKalb Lawyers Association and Southern Center for Human rights for movement lawyering and social justice activism.
Tiffany has volunteered with organizations promoting justice, fairness and equity in the criminal justice system for her entire legal career. A community organizer, she co-founded police accountability organization Building Locally to Organize for Community Safety (BLOCS) in 2008 to promote a holistic approach to public safety. BLOCS successfully advocated for legislative improvements to the Atlanta Citizen Review Board along with other critical local policy changes. In 2015, Tiffany co‐founded Lawyers United for a New Atlanta (LUNA) in response to calls for criminal justice reforms in Atlanta courtrooms. She is also a founding member of the Atlanta chapter of the global Black Lives Matter network, which first convened in 2015. Tiffany was featured as a critic’s choice for one of four Best Citizen Activists by Creative Loafing Atlanta that same year.
In addition to working with grassroots organizations, Tiffany is extensively involved in government reform efforts. In 2010, she was appointed to sit on the search committee for the selection of the Atlanta’s police chief. Her appointment was based on her leadership role in BLOCS. Her civic engagement continued in 2013 as she served on an Atlanta City Council working group to evaluate legislation to address the equitable treatment of sex workers in the city limits. Tiffany joined the Atlanta Fulton County Pre- Arrest Diversion Program (PAD) Design Team in 2017 and continues her work with PAD as a member of its Advisory Board. PAD enables law enforcement to refer community members to social services in lieu of arrest. Tiffany is a member of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ Progressive Agenda Working Group (PAWG), which is responsible for populating and convening commissions focusing on four key social justice issues: criminal justice reform, housing affordability, homelessness and workforce development. Tiffany is co-chair of the PAWG Criminal Justice Reform Commission and sits on Mayor Bottoms’ Transition Team Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee. Her work with PAWG in coalition with several attorneys and community organizations was critical to securing bail reform within Mayor Bottoms’ first month in office. As chairperson of the Ebenezer Baptist Church Social Justice Ministry, Tiffany works to build bridges between grassroots social justice organizations, the legal community and faith-based institutions.
Tiffany is Deputy Director of the National Institute for Teaching Ethics and Professionalism (NIFTEP) and Adjunct Professor of Law at the Georgia State University College of Law. Since 2011, Tiffany has co-taught Fundamentals of Law Practice, an experiential course that aims to prepare law students for small firm practice through live-client representation, fieldwork and doctrinal instruction. Through her position with NIFTEP, Tiffany plans international workshops, conferences and symposia dedicated to helping practitioners and academics find innovative ways to teach ethics and professionalism to law students.
Jeffery Robinson is the founder and Executive Director of The Who We Are Project, which aims to become one of the central voices in correcting the American narrative on our shared history of racism. Thecurrent narrative about the impact of racism and white supremacy on America’s social, legal, political, and economic systems is based on a “re-telling” of history that is incomplete, inaccurate, and misleading. The Who We Are Project will correct this false narrative and provide an objective andtrue account that exposes the role of whitesupremacy and racism throughout American history. Reckoning with our truehistory is the only way for our country to move towardsa path of racial equity and justice.
Jeffery is a former Deputy Legal Director and the former Director of the ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice and Equality. Since graduating from Harvard Law School in 1981, Jeffery has four decades ofexperience working on criminal and racial justice issues. Initially, he represented indigent clients instate court at The Defender Association and then in federal court at the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Seattle. In 1988, Jeffery began a 27-year private practice at Schroeter, Goldmark & Bender, also in Seattle, where he represented a broad range of clients in local, state, and federalcourts on charges ranging from shoplifting to securities fraud and first-degree murder. He hastried over 200 criminal cases to verdict and has tried more than a dozen civil cases representingplaintiffs suing corporate and government entities. Jeffery was one of the original members of the John Adams Project and worked on the behalf of one of five men held at Guantanamo Baycharged with carrying out the 9/11 attacks. In 2015, Jeffery joined the ACLU and on April 1, 2021, he launched The Who We Are Project.
Alejo Rodriguez is a Catalyst for Change Fellow at Center for Institutional and Social Change, and the Chief of Curriculum & Storytelling at Zealous, an organization that trains and supports public defenders in partnership with local organizations and the people and communities they serve. At Zealous, Alejo leads development and implementation of pedagogy, training, and curriculum design across Zealous’ national and local events and trainings, law school class development, campaign collaboration and creation, and technical support initiatives across the country, while imagining and implementing new and immersive storytelling and communications strategies to shift the narrative of what “justice” really should look like and move people and leaders to change legal systems for the better. Alejo previously served as the Arts and Civic Engagement Coordinator at Exodus Transitional Community, a reentry service provider. In addition to his roles at the Center and Zealous, Alejo serves as the Community Engagement Director of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, and is an Executive Board member for Parole Preparation Project and Network Support Services. Alejo is a committed social justice activist for restoring the human dignities of those who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. He is an accomplished public speaker, a published poet, teacher, and advocate. His poetry and writing work appears in OUTLAW BIBLE OF AMERICAN POETRY and DOING TIME: 25 YEARS OF PEN PRISON WRITER AWARDS. Alejo is the winner of several PEN awards, and a founding Teaching Artist for Tribeca Film Institute’s screening series at Otisville Correctional Facility. He is also the co-screenwriter of a short film entitled UNBECOMING. Alejo has prior criminal justice experience having served time in prison in New York. His struggles with parole and legal discoveries were published in the February 2019 CUNY Law Review issue. Alejo holds a Masters of Professional Studies degree from New York Theological Seminary and a Bachelors of Liberal Arts degree from Syracuse University.
At the national ACLU, Ms. Roseberry works to reform the criminal justice system. Focusing on issues like policing, bail reform, clemency, the death penalty, and other criminal justice related matters her work supports ACLU affiliates across the nation.
During the Obama administration, she served as project manager of the historic 2014 Clemency Project. Often referred to as the nation’s largest law firm of nearly 4,000 lawyers, it provided pro bono support to more than 36,000 applicants for presidential clemency.
Ms. Roseberry also served on the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, a nine-member, bipartisan, Congressional blue-ribbon panel charged with examining the federal corrections system, including overcrowding, prison violence, public safety measures, prison rehabilitation and employment programs, and re-entry programs and policies to reduce recidivism. The task force released its groundbreaking report Transforming Prisons, Restoring Lives: Final Recommendations of the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections in January of 2016.
Previously, Ms. Roseberry was the executive director of the Federal Defenders of the Middle District of Georgia, Inc. She has taught advanced criminal procedure and co-taught in the death penalty clinic at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, where she also founded the misdemeanor clinic. For more than 10 years prior to teaching, she practiced federal and state criminal defense in Georgia.
A founding board member of the Georgia Innocence Project, she was the first AfricanAmerican female president of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. She received the 2016 COS Humanitarian Award, the 2017 annual service award from the Alpha Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated and the 2017 Champion of Justice Award from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Ms. Roseberry earned her Bachelor of Science from Wilberforce University in Ohio. She earned her Juris Doctor from Georgia State University College of Law.
A national and international speaker, Ms. Roseberry has presented in nearly every U.S. state in Europe and the former Soviet Union and to a delegation of judges from China. Her TEDx talk, My Father, My Hero, delivered from inside a prison, has been critically acclaimed.
Denise Ruben is a grassroots Organizer from Atlanta, GA. She is formerly incarcerated and heavily involved in healing the community and bridging the gap between community and social justice reform. She is an organizer for Women on the Rise, Co founder of Barred Business, and a member of National Bail Out (bailing black mamas out of jail). With these grassroot organizations she works diligently to change the narrative of criminal and social justice reform. She attends and speaks at rallies and various events and is a voice for the voiceless.
Derek Sells is the Managing Partner for The Cochran Firm’s New York office. He is an exceptional trial attorney, having achieved many successful results, including a damages trial verdict against The City of New York for $33.52 Million Dollar, a result featured in the Nation Law Journal’s Top 100 Verdicts of 2002. A 1985 graduate of Dartmouth College and a 1988 Yale Law School graduate, Derek began his legal career at the prestigious Washington, D.C. firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. He then joined the Washington, D.C. Public Defender Service, rising to a senior trial attorney. In 1995, Derek joined New York’s Schneider Kleinick Weitz Damashek & Shoot, later known as The Cochran Firm, Schneider Kleinick Weitz Damashek & Shoot, as a trial attorney. In May 2002, Derek became Managing Partner of The Cochran Firm. He has since amassed an extraordinary number of Million Dollar verdicts and settlements, exceeding a total of $100 Million Dollars. Derek has taught trial advocacy at various seminars, including those sponsored by the New York State Trial lawyers Association, the New York State Bar Association and Harvard Law School. He is a member of the New York and Washington, D.C. bars. Derek was selected as 2010 New York Super Lawyers for personal injury plaintiff – general. Only 5% of lawyers in the state of New York are chosen for this honor each year. The multi - phase, selection process for this recognition includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent evaluation of candidates by the attorney - led, research staff at Super Lawyers, a peer review of candidates by practice area, and a good - standing and disciplinary check.
David Singleton received his J.D., cum laude, from Harvard Law School in 1991, and his A.B. in Economics and Public Policy, cum laude, from Duke University in 1987. Upon graduation from law school, David received a Skadden Fellowship to work at the Legal Action Center for the Homeless in New York City, where he practiced for three years. He then worked as a public defender for seven years, first with the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and then with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. After moving to Cincinnati in the summer of 2001, David practiced at Thompson Hine before joining OJPC as its Executive Director in July 2002. David is also a Professor of Law at Northern Kentucky University’s Salmon P. Chase College of Law.
Brian Spears is an expert in civil rights litigation in Federal and State Court, specializing in constitutional law, civil rights, and governmental liability in the law enforcement and custodial setting. He has been admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court, the 11th, 5th and 9th Circuit Courts of Appeal, and in the State Courts of Georgia and California. He has litigated cases throughout the southeastern United States involving police misconduct and racially motivated violence including suits against Klansmen and Neo-Nazis. A 1971 graduate of the University of Michigan, (B.A., Ed.), Mr. Spears received his Juris Doctorate from Golden Gate University School of Law in 1975, and practiced law in San Francisco, California, before moving to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1978. Mr. Spears has served on the Executive Board of the National Police Accountability Project and is the past Chair of the Civil Rights Section of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Spears is a partner in the firm, Spears & Filipovits, LLC. Among his awards: the Drum Major for Justice from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Lifetime Achievement award from the Georgia Chapter of the American Constitution Society.
Sam Starks is a Senior Attorney at The Cochran Firm Atlanta and is involved in all aspects of the firm’s litigation practice, including medical malpractice, premises liability, civil rights, and wrongful death cases. Sam graduated from Duke University School of Law in 1992, where he was a Note Editor on the Duke Law Journal. After graduating from law school, Sam Clerked for Judge Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Following his clerkship, Sam began his legal career as a practicing attorney as a staff attorney at The Washington Post. While in Washington D.C. Sam also worked several years as a staff attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. After relocating to Atlanta in 1999, Sam began his career as a plaintiff’s trial attorney representing individuals in various types of personal injury and property damages cases. Over the past 15 years, Sam has represented hundreds of clients and served as lead counsel in civil trials in state and federal courts, and also briefed and argued numerous appeals in state and federal court. Sam is a veteran of the U.S. Army and native of South Carolina. He has taught at numerous programs for civil and criminal trial attorneys, including Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College.
L. Chris Stewart is the Managing Partner of Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys, a serious injury and wrongful death law firm. Chris handles a variety of cases including wrongful death, civil rights, premises liability, mass torts and sexual assaults. Chris has won numerous record setting jury verdicts and made U.S history when he won the first billion dollar jury verdict for a rape victim. Chris is also recognized worldwide as one of the top civil rights lawyers of his generation. He has represented some of the most famous civil rights cases of this century that were captured on video including Walter Scott, who was shot in the back on video by a police officer. The case settled for $6.5 million dollars the highest in South Carolina history, and the officer received a twenty year prison sentence. Chris also represented Alton Sterling who was held down and killed on video by police in Baton Rouge. Other high-profile cases include Gregory Towns of Georgia, which led to a record settlement and two prison sentences for the officers involved; Chase Sherman of Florida who was killed on video which led to a record settlement, and Deaundre Phillips who was shot on video by police which is still in Court. Attorney Stewart demands not just a monetary award for his clients, but also policing reform to prevent future abuse. Stewart also represents 4 of the most famous cases of 2020 including Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and Taniyah Pilgrim (student who was tased during a peaceful protest in Atlanta).
Attorney Stewart is one of the most decorated African-American lawyers in the country having received the Julia Humbles’ Civil Rights Award, the Wiley Branton Award for Leadership, the Outstanding Citizen Award for the State of Georgia, the Georgia Senate Outstanding Public Service Proclamation, the Pinnacle Leadership Award, the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus Chairman’s Award, the Esquire Award, the R.E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, the first and only African-American voted Attorney of the Year for the State of Georgia.
Chris has been featured in international media including CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, The New York Times, Fox News, Good Morning America, The Today Show, Forbes and is a contributor on various media outlets. He travels frequently speaking at a variety of events and schools as the key note speaker. Born and raised in southwest Atlanta, Chris is extremely active in the Atlanta community and is also a board member of the historic Southern Center for Human Rights. He is a double HBCU alumni, graduating from Xavier University (LA) with honors in English, Tulane University with a Master’s of Science in Public Health, and Howard University School of Law. Having overcome reading issues as a youth, Chris embodies his favorite motto “Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.”
Sara Totonchi is the Executive Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR). SCHR is working for equality, dignity, and justice for people impacted by the criminal legal system in the Deep South. Sara joined SCHR in 2001 as the Public Policy Director and became the organization’s Executive Director in 2010. As Executive Director, Sara leads the SCHR team in carrying out its mission to dramatically transform criminal legal systems.
From 2019-2021, Sara has been named annually by Atlanta Magazine as one of the top 500 Most Influential Leaders of Atlanta. In 2017, Sara was selected as a Strengthening Democracy Fellow with the Rockwood Leadership Institute. Sara has been recognized twice as a “Top 40 Under 40”, in 2010 by Georgia Trend Magazine and in 2012 by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. In 2011, Atlanta Magazine named Sara as one of “Five of the Future” and in 2016, one of ten “New Guard” leaders of Atlanta. Georgia Trend annually named Sara a “Notable Person” from 2012 through 2017. Under Sara’s leadership, SCHR has received numerous awards, including the Commitment to Equality Award from State Bar of Georgia’s Committee to Promote Inclusion, the Gate City Bar’s R.E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, and the Martin Luther King Community Service Award from Emory University.
Sara is the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Re:Power; a Board Member of Motherhood Beyond Bars (Georgia) and the Promise of Justice Initiative (Louisiana); alumna of Leadership Atlanta (Class of 2012); a past Chairperson of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty; an Advisor for the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, the Georgia Chapter of the American Constitution Society, and Good Thinking Atlanta; a member of the Georgia State Bar’s Indigent Defense Committee; serves on the Steering Committees of the International Arab Women’s Solidarity Association and We Demand Safety APS; and volunteers at Historic Oakland Cemetery and Parkside Elementary School.
Sara and her family immigrated to the United States when she was a child, settling in Chicago. She is a graduate of Berry College in Rome, Georgia. Prior to joining SCHR, Sara worked at the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, an organization that employs a coordinated community response to end intimate partner violence.
Tyler Whittenberg rejoined Advancement Project National Office (AP) as Deputy Director of Opportunity to Learn in 2021. In this role, he supported grassroots campaigns led by youth of color fighting to end the criminalization of Black and Latinx students and create learning environments that are reflective of the world they envision for themselves. Prior to joining AP, Tyler was Chief Counsel for Justice System Reform at Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
Tyler’s entire career has been dedicated to ending the school-to-prison pipeline and dismantling oppressive structures systematically imposed upon Black and Brown youth. He began his career as an 8th grade social studies teacher in Columbia, South Carolina. He then received a masters degree in Politics and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, focusing on school-to-prison pipeline issues and the growing effort to privatize public education. Tyler subsequently advocated for students’ rights as an Education Policy Fellow with the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education Law Project.
Tyler graduated from Tulane University Law School after completing an Ella Baker Fellowship with the Center for Constitutional Rights. Throughout law school, he co-directed Stand Up for Each Other (SUFEO)—a student-led organization representing youth who were suspended and expelled from public schools in New Orleans. For these efforts, Tyler was awarded the Louisiana State Bar Association’s 2014 Student Pro Bono Award. Tyler also advocated for the rights of youth in the justice and foster care systems as a Staff Attorney with the Youth Law Center and helped jurisdictions throughout the U.S. reduce racial and ethnic disparities in youth-serving systems while a Site Manager with the W. Haywood Burns Institute.