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Danielle Ponderponder

Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer, Monroe County Public Defender’s Office

Years in current role: 1

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I enjoy the opportunity to establish a greater connection between the Rochester community and the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office. We have created a social media presence which we use to inform the community as well as advocate for legislative change. Through our virtual Know Your Rights series we are educating our community on legal issues such as sealing a criminal record, family court and understanding your rights under the Fourth Amendment. I also enjoy recruiting new attorneys. Over the past year, through career fairs, OCI’s, etc., I have interviewed over 50 new or soon-to-be-new attorneys; their passion for justice, their commitment to client-centered representation and criminal justice reform gives me hope. We are lucky to have hired over 15 new attorneys, many of them attorneys of color.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve dealt with over the past year?

Over the past year the biggest challenge was the death of Daniel Prude and George Floyd. Being black in America and witnessing the death of these two men was heartbreaking. As a public defender and a lifelong city resident, I know that police abuse in our community is not uncommon. The callous treatment that George Floyd and Daniel Prude received is a reflection of a system that consistently devalues the humanity of Black people. Despite that challenge, I was moved by the way the Rochester community showed up and supported each other this summer during the BLM protest. I am extremely proud of the members of our office, who spent their days assisting individuals in court and in the evening showed up to support protestors, provide representation and inform individuals of their rights.

What do you see as the biggest changes in the legal industry in the next 3-5 years?

I do believe that the culture is shifting. I believe that our system will become one that embraces compassion and restorative justice as the norm. Ineffective and harmful “tough on crime” policies will be seen as archaic. Our community will reimagine public safety which will include a model that focuses on alternatives to policing, harm reduction and services and support, we will elect leaders and judges who uphold the values of restorative justice. As we create new systems it will be incumbent on all in the legal field, particularly those in criminal defense, to support movement for change by shining light on the injustices of our current system.

What advice would you give law students who are graduating this year?

Having a law degree is a privilege afforded to a few, it is a powerful tool, someway somehow use it to make our world a more just place.

What are you most looking forward to doing as COVID restrictions ease?

LIVE MUSIC, OF COURSE!!

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