Spotlight On: Robin Dillard-Russaw

Please tell us something about your background, and what drew you to criminal defense.

I have always had an interest in criminal law. I worked as a criminal law practitioner in the public sector for the majority of my legal career. I served as a criminal defense attorney in both Wayne and Oakland Counties, I was a former Assistant Prosecutor for both Wayne and Oakland Counties, and I served as a Magistrate and Deputy Court Administrator. These positions have given me a unique perspective on what is necessary and required for good criminal defense. 

You have a new significant role in criminal defense as Director of the new Wayne County Office of Public Defense Services. What are some of your goals for indigent criminal defense in Wayne County?

The new OPDS’ goal is to exceed indigent defense standards as required by the MIDC, through both practical and innovative approaches to criminal defense. We are lucky to have committed stakeholders who share the vision of making Wayne County the premier indigent defense system in the country. Some of our more immediate goals have been use by assigned counsel of investigators and experts early on in cases, and a major focus is now the smooth transition of the assigned counsel function from the 3rd Circuit Court to the OPDS as required by Standard 5.  

What are some things that could be done to improve our system of criminal defense?

Criminal defense attorneys need increased access to resources and great support to deliver acceptable representation. This is required in order to preserve the constitutional rights of individuals charged with crimes. All criminal justice stakeholders need effective operation, and that includes the defense attorney. 

Do you have specific advice for attorneys new to criminal defense practice?

Seek a mentor, participate in an abundance of training, and observe court proceedings. Navigating the field of criminal defense requires insight into what great representation looks like and that includes fully immersing oneself into all facets of what a defense practitioner does.  

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor