The Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Central District of California was established in 1971 and is the largest organization in the federal defender program. The Central District of California covers seven counties (Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura) and a population of over 19 million people. The main office is based in Los Angeles with branch offices in Riverside and Santa Ana, California.
The Office represents individuals who are charged with the commission of a federal crime within the Central District and who demonstrate an inability to pay for private counsel. The Office also represents state court prisoners, both capital and non-capital, who challenge their state conviction in federal court on federal constitutional grounds, individuals charged with parole or supervised release violations, and material witnesses.
Currently, the office is staffed by 92 attorneys, 26 paralegals, 38 investigators, two certified Spanish language interpreters, and more than 85 supporting staff members. The Office supports two units: the Trial Unit and the Capital Habeas Unit. The attorneys in our Trial Unit are appointed by the court to represent those persons charged with federal offenses who cannot afford to retain their own attorney. We represent over 60 percent of all persons charged with criminal offenses in this District. Our representation starts at the first bail hearing before the federal Magistrate Judge and continues through trial or plea, and sentencing in the U.S. District Court. Even after sentencing, we continue to represent our clients on appeal before the Ninth Circuit and United States Supreme Court, and thereafter on matters concerning probation or supervised release.
The attorneys in our Capital Habeas Unit represent persons who have been sentenced to death by state court juries from within this District, and whose convictions have proceeded through the state court appellate process and are now before the federal court on claims involving federal constitutional violations. We represent these clients in habeas corpus proceedings in the District Court, and later in the Ninth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court.
The Federal Public Defender is appointed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for a four-year term and is statutorily responsible for the operation of the office, management of the office caseload, and the supervision of attorneys and other personnel.
Sean K. Kennedy was appointed Federal Public Defender for the Central District of California in March 2006. Born in 1965 and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, Mr. Kennedy grew up in a large family with parents who instilled in their eight children a sense of social responsibility and justice. In 1986, he graduated cum laude from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles with a degree in the classics. Three years later, he received his law degree from Loyola Law School. After graduation, he spent nearly three years with one of Californias best-known white collar law firms before joining the office of the Federal Public Defender in 1992.
Mr. Kennedy spent eight years in the trial unit before handling appeals and went on to head the offices Capital Habeas Unit, the first of its kind in the nation. Over the years, Mr. Kennedy has handled a number of high-profile cases. In 2001, he was part of a defense team that persuaded white supremacist Buford O. Furrow Jr. to avoid the death penalty by pleading guilty to murdering a federal postal carrier and committing other crimes at a Jewish community center. And three years later, he helped win the release of Thomas Goldstein, who had been imprisoned for murder for 24 years on the basis of an unreliable jailhouse informant.
Mr. Kennedy is an adjunct professor at Loyola Law School, where he teaches courses in Appellate Advocacy and Capital Punishment. Mr. Kennedy also oversees the Moot Court competitions at Loyola.
Previous Federal Defenders for the Central District include John Van de Kamp, the Honorable James R. Dunn, Peter Horstman and the Honorable Maria E. Stratton.