Ernie Lewis, Executive Director
Ernie Lewis received his undergraduate degree from Baylor University in 1969, a Masters of Divinity from Vanderbilt University in 1973, and a Juris Doctoris (J.D.) from Washington University in 1977.  He was a VISTA Volunteer in Minnesota in 1970.  He was with the Department of Public Advocacy from 1976 until 2008 in several different capacities, including appellate lawyer, local assistance branch manager, directing attorney of the Richmond Trial Office, and Regional Manager for the Central Kentucky Region.  He was appointed Kentucky Public Advocate in 1996, overseeing the statewide public defender system, and served in that capacity until 2008 when he retired from state government.  Since 1985, he has been on the faculty of the National College of Criminal Defense located at Mercer Law School in Macon, Georgia. He served for two years as Chair of the American Council of Chief Defenders from 2006-2007. He has worked on indigent defense issues with various groups in Georgia, North Carolina, Minnesota, Texas, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, and Louisiana.  In 2000, he was named Outstanding Lawyer by the Kentucky Bar Association.   In 2007, he was given the Champion of Indigent Defense Award by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  In 2008, he was given the Chief Justice’s Special Service Award.  He received the Department of Public Advocacy’s Professionalism and Excellence Award in 2003 and the Nelson Mandela Award in 2009. Since January of 2014, he has been serving as the Executive Director of the National Association for Public Defense. 

Heather H. Hall, Development & Engagement Director
Heather H. Hall joined the National Association for Public Defense as a member in February 2014, and is currently its Development & Engagement Director. Prior to this role with NAPD, Heather was the Special Projects Advisor for the Louisiana Public Defender Board (Baton Rouge) from 2008-2014. From 2004-2008 Heather worked as the Director of the Louisiana Justice Coalition, a non-profit, sixteen-member coalition committed to public defense reform in Louisiana. In that capacity, she built a consensus of support around the American Bar Association Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System, solicited media attention and support for reform, undertook a diverse public education campaign in all 64 parishes, and initiated community-oriented defense projects in select districts. She started her professional work with the ACLU of Louisiana as their Legislative & Education Associate from 2002-2004. Heather received her Bachelor's Degrees in Religion and History from the University of Rochester (Rochester, NY) in 2002. 

Jeff Sherr, Training Director
Jeff Sherr​ is the Training Director for the National Association for Public Defense producing hundreds of webinars for public defense professionals across the nation. Prior to that he was the Manager of the Education and Strategic Planning Branch of the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy. Jeff started with the DPA since 1994, starting first as a law clerk, then working with the Juvenile Post Dispositional Unit, then in the trial division with the Stanford Field Office, and now in Frankfort with the education staff. Jeff graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 1995. Jeff is also Jeff is a faculty member for Gideon's Promise, the National Criminal Defense College, Clarence Darrow Death Penalty College, Harvard Trial Advocacy Workshop, Bronx Defender Academy, and other state litigation institutes. In addition to regularly training public defender litigators and trainers, Jeff trains public defender leaders nationally and for many individual defender states and offices. Jeff also has an extensive background in theatre having studied with the National Shakespeare Conservatory and the University of Kansas. Jeff performs regularly with Lexington, Kentucky's first long-form improv team in Central Kentucky and at Improv Festivals across the country.

Cathleen Bennett, Assistant Training Director

Bio coming soon.

Jeanie Vela, Training Support Coordinator
Jeanie Vela is currently the Regional Office Administrator in the Colorado State Public Defender’s Denver Regional Office but has been with Colorado’s public defender system more than 30 years, serving in a wide variety of administrative capacities over the years.  As a legal administrator, Jeanie is a member of the Denver office’s management team and helps attorney supervisors develop and implement local office policies and procedures.  She previously managed the administrative operations in the Denver office and continues to be involved in training new employees in the Denver office as well as new administrative operations managers in other PD regional offices throughout the state of Colorado.  Jeanie is an approved grant proposal peer reviewer for BJA’s Office of Justice Programs and has written grant proposals for Colorado’s PD system, including the JAG-funded project that would become Colorado’s first social work program; a minority family advocate project designed to help families of color better navigate the criminal justice system to improve outcomes for youth; and a program that provided legal advocates for persons seeking their unconditional release from Colorado’s Mental Health Institute at Pueblo.  Prior to her work in the Denver office, Jeanie managed the Colorado PD’s $13 million Conflict of Interest budget.  She also co-developed the internal auditing processes utilized by the Colorado PD to measure regional office compliance with judicial, fiscal and system-defined directives and conducted semi-annual performance audits of Colorado’s 21 regional offices.  In 2010, Jeanie was appointed to Colorado’s Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Board and served as the Board’s Vice Chair from 2015 – 2018 until her term expired in 2018.  Jeanie has a Master’s Degree in Legal Administration from the University of Denver (Sturm) College of Law, a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management from Colorado State University, and a Certificate in Criminal Justice from Colorado State University. 

Jonathan Friley, Data Manager
Jonathan joined NAPD in June, 2017 to administer NAPD’s membership database, manage listservs, and assist and advise on other technological issues and solutions. Jonathan is currently the Public Defender Corporation (PDC) Administrator for Public Defender Services in West Virginia. As PDC Administrator, Jonathan is responsible for overseeing eighteen independent non-state agencies, consisting of approximately two hundred fifty employees across twenty-four offices and comprising a total budget of around 19.2 million dollars. In addition to his PDC duties, Jonathan participates in brainstorming sessions and moot court with the Appellate Division, assists in organizing the annual conference, and serves as the internal tech consultant for the office. Jonathan graduated from WVU College of Law in 2008, where he was active in the ADR Society (President), Phi Alpha Delta (President), OUTLaw, and other organizations. He is a vocal advocate of process improvement methods (Lean, Kaizen, Six Sigma), Just Culture, Crucial Conversations, and other topics that have labeled him the office management geek, a title he lovingly embraces. In his spare time, Jonathan likes to travel, is a budding photographer, and is an avid gamer.

Nicole Lesniewski, Member Support Specialist
Nicole joined NAPD in July 2018 to provide support for members. She helps manage membership for new and existing organizations and provides technical support for users. Previously, Nicole worked in state government finance and for the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy as a policy analyst and assistant for the Deputy Public Advocate and General Counsel. While at DPA Nicole produced the agency’s annual report, served as a liaison among statewide offices, clients, and the Public Advocate’s office, and assisted with legislative issues. Nicole graduated from the University of Kentucky with a Master’s of Public Administration in 2015, and currently lives in Mexico where she teaches English both locally and through an online platform to Chinese students.

Jonathan Lyon, National Public Defender Survey Investigator
Jonathan Lyon is currently a legal investigator for McClain Investigations and now also is working as the national survey investigator for National Association for Public Defense, assisting with the development and pilot of the first-ever national survey of public defenders, a project funded by the Department of Justice-Bureau of Justice Statistics. NAPD co-leads this project with its partners the Urban Institute and Indigent Defense Research Association (IDRA). Jon began his investigative background working in a private investigative firm and spent 12 years with the Office of the State Appellate Defender of Illinois. His primary focus has been on post-conviction death penalty cases. In addition, Jon worked for LexisNexis as a national trainer of the CaseMap suite of software. He also worked for Lockheed Martin as a contractor supporting government attorneys and investigators with software and electronic discovery support needs. Jon is a Certified Defense Investigator through DePaul's Center for Justice in Capital Cases and a Certified Trainer through the Bureau of Justice Assistance (department of Justice). He is also a well-traveled trainer. He has taught at the Clarence Darrow Death Penalty Defense College, Cardoza, DePaul, Kent, Iowa, and University of Michigan law schools.  He has also taught at the National Defense Investigator Associations Annual Conferences, National Association of Legal Investigators Annual Conference, the Innocence Project, NACDL, Federal Defender's Winning Strategies Conferences, Life in the Balance NAPD’s webinar series, and numerous state and county public defender conferences. Jon is the Creator/Webmaster for the internationally utilized website His home office is in Chicago, IL.

Stephen F. Hanlon, General Counsel
Mr. Hanlon has a long history of handling public interest and civil rights cases.  In 1989, he founded the Community Services Team (CST) at Holland & Knight and for the next 23 years he served as the Partner in Charge of the CST, which during Mr. Hanlon’s tenure was the largest full-time private practice pro bono department in the nation. In 1997, Holland and Knight received the ABA Pro Bono Publico Award.  The American Lawyer described Holland and Knight as a "pro bono champion."  In 2006, Mr. Hanlon received the Chesterfield Smith Award from Holland & Knight, the firm's highest individual recognition given to a firm partner. Since his retirement from Holland & Knight at the end of 2012, Mr. Hanlon has confined his practice to assisting and representing public defenders with excessive caseloads. He now serves as General Counsel to the National Association for Public Defense in Washington, D.C. Mr. Hanlon was lead counsel for the Missouri Public Defender in State ex rel. Mo. Public Defender Commission, 370 S.W.3d 592 (Mo.banc 2012), which was the first state supreme court case to uphold the right of a public defender organization to refuse additional cases when confronted with excessive caseloads.  The Waters case has been described as a “watershed moment” in indigent defense.  Davies, Andrew Lucas Blaize Davies, “How Do We ‘Do Data’ in Public Defense?,” 78 Albany Law Review  1179. Mr. Hanlon was the Project Director for the American Bar Association in the critically acclaimed study of the workload of the Missouri Public Defender undertaken by RubinBrown on behalf of the American Bar Association, known as “The Missouri Project,” available at,  He currently serves as the Project Director for similar studies in several states.



December 15, 2018: Registration is now open for NAPD's Spring Events:
  • Executive Leadership Insitute (Frankfort, KY)
  • Train the Trainer (Frankfort, KY)
  • "We the Defenders" Investigators Conference (Biloxi, MS)
  • "We the Defenders" Social Workers/Sentencing AdvocatesConference (Biloxi, MS)
  • Team Mitigation Institute (Atlanta, GA)
Click on Events Tab for more info and to register.

October 30, 2018: NAPD releases a video about its achievements over the 5 years since forming in November in 2013. This films was coordinated by NAPD Steering Committee Member and San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi and debuted at the Racial Justice Training and 5 Year Celebration in Baltimore, Maryland. You can watch the video HERE

July 1, 2018: General Registration opens for the “WE THE DEFENDERS” TRAINING CONFERENCE,  November 26-29, 2018, Indianapolis, IN

You can watch a video about the event HERE 

Due to overwhelming demand, NAPD will again offer this comprehensive Investigator and Social Worker/Sentencing Advocate training experience! The program will include one track for Investigators and a separate track for Social Worker/Sentencing Advocates.  Hear from nationally recognized experts who will share their knowledge on a wide range of topics relevant to the work you do each and every day.  Network with other criminal defense practitioners from around the country and find your tribe. 

January 23, 2018: In response to US Attorney General Jeff Session's reversal of prior policy on the imposition of fines and fees for criminal defendants, NAPD submitted the following letter on behalf of the public defender community. You can read the letter HERE