Washington, DC (May 6, 2014) – The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) is pleased to announce that President Jerry J. Cox has today selected Cynthia Orr and Rick Jones to receive two of the Association's most prestigious honors. Cynthia Orr will receive the Robert C. Heeney Award and Rick Jones has been selected as this year's recipient of the Champion of Justice Award. Both Orr and Jones will be presented with the award on August 1, 2014, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the Foundation for Criminal Justice’s gala Celebrating Liberty’s Last Champions™: Guardians of the Constitution.
The Champion of Justice Award recognizes individuals who -- through legislative, journalistic or humanitarian pursuits -- have staunchly preserved or defended the constitutional rights of American citizens and have endeavored to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime.
NACDL president Jerry J. Cox said: "Rick Jones and his partners at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem have truly revolutionized our understanding how indigent defense should be delivered. Rick is a tireless leader and has time and again given himself to advocating for local, state and national reforms to indigent defense. Simply put, Rick Jones and quality indigent defense are synonymous. I can think of no one more deserving of this recognition and I thank Rick for his tremendous service."
Jones has dedicated years of service to raising the quality of indigent defense for the residents of Harlem, N.Y., and to advocating for improved indigent defense systems throughout the nation. Jones is currently a practicing criminal defense lawyer in New York City, where he is the Executive Director and a founding member of the Neighborhood Defender Service (NDS) of Harlem. Since its founding more than twenty years ago, NDS has gained national and international recognition for its innovative, community-based approach to public defense. NDS combines criminal defense work with the services of civil attorneys, social workers, investigators and others to meet the needs of its clients. Jones and NDS have been widely praised for their efforts to address not just the needs of their clients in criminal courtrooms, but to confront the underlying issues that bring them into contact with the criminal justice system in the first place, and provide comprehensive social service support to avoid or minimize future problems.
Jones' work to reform systems of indigent defense has extended far beyond his service to NDS and he has been a dedicated member of NACDL for many years. Jones currently serves as the Association's secretary and previously served two terms on the Association's Board of Directors, including a year as parliamentarian. Jones has co-chaired NACDL's Indigent Defense Committee and the Task Force on Problem-Solving Courts. He currently serves as co-chair of the Task Force on the Restoration of Rights and Status After Conviction and is a member of the State Legislative Affairs and Budget Committees. Through his work at NACDL, Jones has traveled to every region of the country, as well as abroad to Liberia, promoting fairness, equality and justice for the poor and indigent.
Likewise, Jones is involved in a number of leading organizations working to address indigent defense delivery in his home state of New York and around the country. He is a member of the inaugural steering committee of the National Association for Public Defense (NAPD) and sits on the boards of the New York State Bar Association Criminal Justice Section Executive Committee, the New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA), and the Sirius Foundation. Jones has been engaged with the Brennan Center for Justice's Community Oriented Defender Network and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He also serves on the Editorial Board of the Amsterdam News.
Jones teaches the criminal defense externship at Columbia Law School as well as a trial practice course. As part of his commitment to the future of indigent defense he works tirelessly to place his students in public defender offices all over the country. He also serves on the faculty of the National Criminal Defense College (NCDC) in Macon, Georgia.
Jones completed his bachelor's degree at the University of Michigan, where he was elected to the Michigan Student Assembly and earned his law degree at Rutgers University School of Law, where he won the prize as the most promising trial lawyer in his graduating class. He was also a Leadership New York Coro Fellow.
The Robert C. Heeney Award is given annually to the member who best exemplifies the goals and values of the Association and the legal profession.
NACDL's President Jerry J. Cox said: "Cynthia Orr's dedication to the defense bar is unparalleled. She is a true advocate, both when working on behalf of her clients in the courtroom and when pushing for systematic reforms to criminal justice, at all levels of government. Her record of exposing flaws in Texas's application of the death penalty is particularly impressive. And I have been personally touched by her years of commitment to NACDL and her never ending desire to serve the Association. I am delighted to name her as the recipient of this year's Robert C. Heeney Award."
Orr was NACDL President from 2009-10 and has served NACDL in every officer position and has held numerous other positions of leadership within the Association. During Orr's term as President, NACDL took significant action to challenge New York State's inadequate delivery of indigent defense services. The Association also made extraordinary efforts to support the defense lawyers working at Guantanamo Bay and to bring greater transparency to the proceedings there. Furthermore, NACDL, together with the Heritage Foundation, released its influential report Without Intent: How Congress Is Eroding the Criminal Intent Requirement in Federal Law bringing focus to the problem of overcriminalization and issued studies on misdemeanor courts, problem solving courts, and the need to ensure the scientific integrity of forensic science.
Orr currently serves as the 5th Circuit Vice Chair to NACDL's Amicus Curiae Committee, as a member of NACDL’s Champion Advisory Board, and as a member of NACDL's Death Penalty, Corrections, Forfeiture Abuse, Fourth Amendment Advocacy, and Discovery Reform Committees. Orr is a Trustee of the Foundation for Criminal Justice and has previously chaired NACDL's Membership, Internet, Public Affairs, and History Committees.
As a leading criminal defense lawyer, Orr's achievements have attained wide national recognition. Orr obtained the first confession of error by the State of Texas in a death penalty case, Miguel Angel Martinez vs. Gary Johnson. And on October 4, 2011, Orr, along with the Innocence Project, Inc. of New York, was instrumental in gaining the release of Michael Morton, an innocent man who had been convicted in 1987 for the murder of his wife, in Williamson County, Texas. In her first year in practice, Orr was counsel on an amicus brief in CNN vs. General Manuel Noriega before the United States Supreme Court, where she successfully defended this unpopular defendant’s attorney-client privilege. She is Board Certified in both Criminal Law and Criminal Appellate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
Orr is NACDL's representative in the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates, is the Chair-Elect to the Criminal Justice Section and is a member of the ABA Task Force rewriting the Standards for Prosecution and Defense Functions. She also served on the ABA Ad Hoc Innocence Committee which published Achieving Justice: Freeing the Innocent, Convicting the Guilty. She previously authored the Annual Report on the Criminal Justice System for the ABA Defense Function Committee entitled The State of Criminal Justice.
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Orr is a Past President of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and a Past President and Founder of the San Antonio Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. She is a member of the San Antonio Bar Association (SABA) and the SABA Federal Courts Committee, and Co-chair of the Criminal Law Subcommittee. She was also appointed to the Board of Governors for the Bar Association of the Fifth Federal Circuit.
Orr's many accolades include induction into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame. She is listed in Best Lawyers in America and is one of Texas Monthly's "Texas Super Lawyers" and "San Antonio's Best Lawyers," featured in Scene in SA Monthly. In addition, Orr has been designated, on multiple occasions, as one of the Best 100 Trial Lawyers in Texas by the American Trial Lawyers Association. Orr helped establish the Women's Opportunities Week and the San Antonio Minority Business Accelerator for the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, and previously served on the Board of Directors. Orr is also a co-founder of the Texas Innocence Network.
Orr received her B.B.A. from the University of Texas in 1979 and her J.D. from St. Mary's University in 1988. She began her career clerking for Fifth Circuit Judge Emilio Garza when he sat on the U.S. District Court bench in San Antonio, Tex.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.