Santa Clara County Scale Tippers — Honoring Attorneys on #PublicDefenseDay

Below are some images of some amazing public defenders from our hometown of Santa Clara County. Of course, this is just a sampling of some of the incredible freedom fighters who walk into our courthouse and advocate for the least heard of our community, with no fanfare. Yet for the person facing an intimidating criminal justice system, these public defenders are arguably the most important person in their lives during that critical moment — the person fighting against a system that is trying to rip them from their families, communities, and lives. Please believe, we have families we care about deeply in our county who are still together because of the work of their pubic defender — parents in their kids’ lives, young people who now have a future instead of a life of prison. Public Defenders are the rock in David’s sling, as families fight the Goliath of the criminal justice system. On National Public Defender Day, the term being used is “tipping the scales” of justice. We have worked with some great public defenders across the country, but we thought it was right to highlight our hometown “Scale Tippers.”


Jessica Smith won Rusty’s freedom from a wrongful conviction that would have cost him his life. This is her walking out of court with Rusty’s mom the day they won.


Besides being part of a team at the ADO that saved a good friend of ours from a life sentence,  Sajid Kahn prevented a 14 year old from doing a life sentence that would have taken most of his adult life. Because of Sajid, the juvenile will still be a youth when he comes home.


Rebecca Kahan won a re-sentencing for Jesus who was initially facing a life sentence without parole. Because of her, he now has a chance of parole, and coming home to his family.


Meghan Piano saved Lisa from a life sentence. Lisa had done 17 years when Meghan got her case. This is Meghan leaving court the day she won Lisa’s freedom, who now lives with her daughter and granddaughter. You can see a video on Lisa and Meghan here.


Ross McMahon worked with DannyRey’s mom and other public defenders to significantly reduce his incarceration, so DannyRey will still be a young man when he comes home, with a full life in front of him.


Andy Gutierrez advocated at community meetings to oppose a San Jose policy that would have allowed landlords to evict tenants who were arrested.


JJ Kapp fought for Will to come home from a life sentence. Will had been incarcerated for 18 years. This is JJ and Will the day after Will’s release, right before they went to lunch to celebrate.

“The First 24” — A Participatory Defense Action Tool

Last month, we got a familiar late night, frantic, call. A friend’s father just got arrested, and she wanted to know what she could do. She didn’t know how to locate him in the jail, how to make sure the jail knew about his medical condition, and how to influence the bail process to get him home as soon as possible to fight his case. Because those type of calls are fairly frequent for us, we immediately shared a few steps she could take to get the answers and outcome she was looking for within the first 24 hours. She looked for him in the online county system, and because the arrest was so recent, he was not yet processed. So we gave her the number at the jail, and let her know what information she should have ready for them to locate him. When she learned that his case was going to be reviewed by Pre-Trial Services due to the status of the charge, we shared with her how to communicate vital information about her father that could influence how the judge could determine his possible release or bail amount. She initially called us at around 10PM. She was picking him up and taking him home by 6am. He is now home to work with his family and his public defender to challenge the charges, without having to do so while detained. Of course, this is just the start of the work their family is going to have to do, but it was an important first step. And now he will be able to go to participatory defense meetings to actively engage in his own defense. The day after his release, we decided we should put these steps out to the community. And we thought every community, particularly those counties that have participatory defense hubs, should have these steps out in the public as well. This graphic is designed to be looked at on the phone, as well as printed as posters to be hung up in community touchstones. Our participatory defense hubs in Alabama, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania, as well as other counties in California are already starting on their county-specific First 24 so community and families can impact cases — from those extremely important first hours. If you are interested in starting a First 24 for your county, email us.