New York, New York—The Board of Directors of the Office of the Appellate Defender (OAD) is proud to announce today that it has selected Christina A. Swarns, a nationally respected lawyer and criminal justice advocate, to serve as OAD’s third Attorney-In-Charge, effective August 28, 2017.
Most recently serving as the Litigation Director for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), Ms. Swarns enjoys a national reputation as a criminal justice reform expert. Her extraordinary criminal, civil and appellate defense expertise will powerfully advance OAD’s longstanding mission of advocating for poor people convicted of felonies in Manhattan and the Bronx.
Ms. Swarns succeeds Richard M. Greenberg, who retired after serving as OAD’s Attorney-in-Charge for over 20 years. During that time, Mr. Greenberg oversaw tremendous success at OAD, as the organization developed and earned its reputation as one of the nation’s premier appellate defense organizations.
Ms. Swarns has dedicated her professional career to the defense of the most marginalized people in the criminal justice system. She worked for 14 years at the LDF and served for the last three years as its Litigation Director. In that capacity, she oversaw all aspects of LDF’s economic justice, education, political participation and criminal justice litigation, and served as lead counsel in some of this country’s highest-profile death penalty cases. In the 2016-2017 Term of the United States Supreme Court, for instance, Ms. Swarns argued, and won, Buck v. Davis, a Texas death penalty case challenging the introduction of explicitly racially biased evidence at trial. Ms. Swarns was the only Black woman to argue in last year’s Supreme Court term, and is one of only a handful of Black women to have argued before the nation’s highest court. Ms. Swarns’s defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal—often called “the world’s most famous death row prisoner”—led a federal court to vacate Mr. Abu-Jamal’s death sentence based on improper instruction to the sentencing jury.
“We are thrilled to have Christina assume the leadership of OAD,” said Sean Hecker, Chairman of OAD’s Board of Directors and a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton. “Her unrivaled reputation in the indigent defense community, her passionate and life-long commitment to criminal justice, and her years of experience in supervising intelligent, creative and dedicated lawyers make her the perfect fit for our stellar organization.”
“Christina is the perfect leader to continue the legacy of dedicated, compassionate and creative appellate representation of indigent clients championed so effectively by Rick Greenberg and the fine lawyers of OAD for so many years,” said E. Joshua Rosenkranz, an OAD Board member, its founder and first Attorney-in-Charge, now a partner at Orrick.
“It is an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to serve OAD and its clients,” said Ms. Swarns. “I firmly believe that the American criminal justice system must be administered fairly and without regard to racial, social or economic status, so that all communities receive fair and appropriate police protection and all individuals charged with or convicted of crimes are afforded the full range of safeguards guaranteed by the Constitution. By consistently offering powerful and effective advocacy on behalf of indigent people convicted of felonies, OAD has, since its inception, stood at the vanguard of institutional appellate defenders. I therefore look forward to working with the brilliant OAD staff to ensure that all of their clients receive vigorous, creative, and effective appellate representation.”
A passionate legal advocate, Ms. Swarns speaks and writes regularly on issues concerning race, law, and criminal justice. She is frequently interviewed by media outlets including: PBS News Hour, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, National Public Radio, Democracy Now!, and the New York Times.
Before becoming LDF’s Litigation Director, Ms. Swarns served as the Director of LDF’s Criminal Justice Project, where she analyzed, developed and implemented litigation, organizing, public education, communications and other advocacy strategies. Prior to joining LDF, Ms. Swarns served as a Supervising Assistant Federal Defender and Assistant Federal Defender at the Capital Habeas Unit of Philadelphia’s Federal Community Defender Office. Ms. Swarns began her legal career as a Staff Attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Division in New York.
Ms. Swarns earned a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a B.A. from Howard University.