NYSDA Leader Jonathan Gradess ’73 Discusses Public Defense With New York Law Journal


Headshot of Hofstra Law alumnus Jonathan Gradess '73, Executive Director of the New York State Defenders AssociationHofstra Law alumnus Jonathan Gradess ’73, who will retire in August from his post as the executive director of the New York State Defenders Association, was interviewed by New York Law Journal about his nearly 40 years of leading the NYSDA.

Besides assisting lawyers who are assigned to represent clients in Criminal and Family Court, during Gradess’ tenure the NYSDA has worked to hold back the death penalty and assure the existence of the Capital Defender Office, secure legislative reforms to improve public defense services, and create an infrastructure for New York’s public defense system.

Gradess has received the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association 2016 Reginald Heber Smith Award, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers 2002 Gideon Award; and the New York State Bar Association Criminal Justice Section 1991 award for Outstanding Contribution to the Delivery of Defense Services, among other awards.

In the Q&A, published on July 13, Gradess shares his thoughts on such topics as the achievements of the NYSDA, how the practice of criminal defense in New York has changed, and the challenges facing criminal defense lawyers. He also offers advice for law students thinking about becoming criminal defense lawyers.


Q: Are public defenders more capable today than when you started out?
A: Public defense work requires much more than individual capacity. Resources and defense teams composed of attorneys, investigators, social workers, parent advocates, and others available to handle any particular case are equally important. Measured from that point of view, and given the broadened scope of public defense work, we are less capable.

The scope of criminal law has increased dramatically. Surveillance methods have multiplied. There is an escalating need for greater forensic expertise. The expanded domains of the criminal law covering forfeiture proceedings, immigrants, sex offenders and gangs, combined with the explosion of specialty courts, specialized offenses, and the funded coordination of a multiplicity of adversaries have simply made the work much more difficult.

All of this is quite independent of the individual capacity of the dedicated and capable defense lawyer. Training has been improving; greater support is still very much needed. NYSDA works on these issues on a daily basis.

Read the full article on the New York Law Journal website.

Read Gradess’ bio on the New York State Defenders Association website.