Katherine Newberger (Baltimore, MD)

Katherine Newberger (Baltimore, MD) Photo
Katherine Newberger is a candidate for Director in NACDL's 2022 election, nominated by the Nominating Committee.

After 16 years fighting on the front lines for justice one client at a time, I would relish the opportunity to fight for systemic change as a member of NACDL’s Board of Directors. I became an assistant federal public defender in Baltimore, working my way up to become First Assistant, after clerking for U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly in Chicago and Fourth Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz.  I have honed my ability to get the best results for my clients based on the system as it currently exists.  However, even when I obtain a dismissal, win an acquittal, negotiate a favorable plea agreement, or prevail at a contested sentencing hearing, these hard-won victories take too great a toll on my clients and their families.  It is time for new approaches and reforms led by the criminal defense attorneys who intimately understand the failings of our current system.  I applaud the bold mission and vision statements adopted by NACDL, and I am eager to join the Board in tackling the problems endemic to the criminal legal system and advocating for critical reforms, such as: 

  • holding police accountable by giving attorneys access to disciplinary records; 
  • creating a culture in which pretrial release is the norm and not the exception; 
  • developing more off ramps from prosecution; 
  • repealing mandatory minimums;  
  • embracing robust alternatives to incarceration;  
  • revitalizing the Fourth Amendment; 
  • challenging so-called “forensic” science; and 
  • fostering a diverse defense bar. 

My career at the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Maryland makes me particularly well suited to help the Board of Directors fulfill these far-reaching goals. 

First, welcoming diverse attorneys to our profession has been one of the focuses of my career.  As a 5’3”, half-Chinese, Jewish woman, I understand how difficult it is to overcome stereotypes in our profession.  To create more pathways for diverse attorneys, I developed a robust internship program for our office that attracted diverse law students from across the country.  The majority went on to become public defenders or private criminal defense attorneys; we have hired three as assistant federal public defenders. 

Second, I have overseen our office’s efforts to obtain relief for federal defendants through retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act and compassionate release, making sure all viable motions in our District were filed by counsel.  We have had unprecedented success: According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the District of Maryland has more compassionate release grants than any other district in the country.  We have shaved more than 550 years off sentences through compassionate release alone.  I applaud NACDL’s efforts to find attorneys to file compassionate release motions for prisoners, and I am well positioned to contribute to similar projects undertaken by NACDL in the future.

Third, as the First Assistant Federal Public Defender for an office of more than 55 people, I deeply appreciate the importance of developing people and managing finances to enable our mission.  As our certifying officer, I give final approval for our expenditures.  This role has given me insight into budgeting and resource allocation to ensure we have the funds necessary to best litigate each case. 

Finally, as the immediate past president of the Maryland Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, I understand the challenges facing membership organizations, from growing membership to the complicated logistics of pulling off events.  Although the pandemic halted in-person efforts during my presidency, I managed our successful embrace of virtual programming. 

All of these experiences will enable me to be a meaningful contributor to the Board of Directors—and to any subcommittees to which I am assigned. 

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