Nevada Supreme Court Justice Michael Cherry, who chairs the Court’s Indigent Defense Commission, was a moderator at a Stanford Law School conference on March 2, 2013, exploring the state of indigent defense systems across the country.

Justice CherryJustice Cherry

The event, sponsored by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS), was entitled Gideon at 50: The Future of Indigent Representation.  

The title referred to the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright, which mandated that indigent defendants receive “fair and adequate representation” in civil, criminal, and immigration cases.

Justice Cherry, as moderator of the signature panel, set the stage for the discussion by reviewing the principles of the Gideon decision before calling on the four panelists to discuss what is at stake today for low-income individuals in court cases, and how to eliminate barriers to implementation of the decision.

Justice Cherry posed follow-up questions before opening the floor for questions from Stanford students.

Panelists included Jeff Adachi, San Francisco Public Defender; Jim Brosnahan, senior partner in the law firm of Morrison and Foerster; Elisabeth Semel, Director of the Death Penalty Clinic and Clinical Professor of Law at the University of California Berkeley School of Law; and Sejal Zota, staff attorney at the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers’ Guild.

Justice Cherry also hosted a pre-conference dinner featuring Yale Law School professor Stephen B. Bright as the keynote speaker.

Mr. Bright is former director and current senior counsel for the Southern Center for Human Rights, where he developed a national reputation as a death penalty opponent and advocate for the right to counsel for low-income people accused of crimes.

Mr. Bright is a recipient of the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Mr. Bright was instrumental in the passage of the Georgia Indigent Defense Act in 2003.  His work in indigent defense was chronicled in the documentary Fighting for Life in the Death Belt and in two books about death penalty cases.

Justice Cherry has been on the Nevada Supreme Court since 2006.  He has been an attorney in Nevada since 1970, when he became a Deputy Clark County Public Defender.  He then became a private attorney before returning to public service in 1997 when he was named to lead the newly created Clark County Special Public Defender’s Office to handle major homicide cases and conflict cases from the county public defender’s office.

Justice Cherry served in that capacity until being elected to Department 17 of the Eighth Judicial District Court in November 1998.

In addition to chairing the Supreme Court’s Indigent Defense Commission, Justice Cherry is the supervising justice over the Senior Justice and Judge Program.