The Public Defender’s Office employs approximately 200 people – 100 attorneys and 100 support staff. Public Defender Carey Haughwout and Chief Assistant Public Defender Barbara White manage this staff separated into various divisions: including appellate, mental health, county court, felony, investigations, intake, juvenile, major crimes and social services. Please read below about the responsibilities of each division.
Appellate Division | The Baker Act | County Court | Felony Division | Intake Division | Investigations Division | Juvenile Division
Major Crimes Division | Social Services Division
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When an indigent person is convicted and wants to appeal his case he is represented by a lawyer in the Appellate Division. The division handles felony appeals before the Fourth District Court of Appeals, the Florida Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court, when necessary. Misdemeanor appeals are also handled by the Appellate Division in Circuit Court. The department, headed by chief Paul Petillo, works closely with the trial divisions reviewing the cases to prepare appropriate appeals. Appellate lawyers also work as office mentors training new lawyers to analyze and prepare for complex legal issues in the trial court.
In addition to appeals generated in
To reach the Appeals Division please call (561) 355-7600 or send an email to PPetillo@pd15.state.fl.us
The Baker Act/The
The Public Defender’s Office represents mentally ill patients involuntarily held under The Baker Act. This law, also know as The Florida Mental Health Act, was passed by the 1971 Florida legislature requiring the involuntary commitment of mentally ill people who pose a threat to themselves or others. Named after the legislator that sponsored the bill, state Rep. Maxine Baker, the law also requires the state to offer community services to mentally ill patients who do not require commitment. A person who is held must undergo 72 hours of psychiatric evaluation to determine future treatment and commitment.
When a client faces misdemeanor charges or a traffic offense the case is handled in County Court with representation by an assistant public defender in the County Court division. Led by division chief Dan Eisinger, Some of the offenses that fall under the umbrella of County Court include:
This division – handling the most cases per year in the Public Defender’s Office – works closely with the social service department in an effort to assist clients with issues such as substance abuse and mental health and in an effort to develop sentencing alternatives in hopes of preventing the clients return to the criminal justice system.
To reach the County Court division please call (561) 355-7500 or send an email to DEisinger@pd15.state.fl.us.
Adult clients charged with the most serious crimes – felonies – are represented by an assistant public defender in the Felony Division in Circuit Court. Charges these clients face can include murder, rape, armed robbery and child abuse. These clients face serious penalties including life without parole and, sometimes, even death.
Chief John Rivera heads this division - the largest in the Public Defender’s Office. When juveniles are charged as adults, they are represented by Felony Division attorneys with assistance from the Juvenile Division.
To reach the Felony Division please call (561) 355-7500 or send an email to JRivera@pd15.state.fl.us.
The Office of the Public Defender has a division that operates at the Palm Beach County Jail to oversee intake of new clients. Additionally, the division handles the first appearance of some clients, which is the first court hearing before a judge required by law to take place within 24 hours of arrest. The intake division represents clients at first appearance who are charged with misdemeanors or traffic offenses and misdemeanor and felony arraignments for clients in custody.
To reach the Intake Division please call 688-4610
The Investigations Department plays a critical role in the Public Defender’s Office gathering information that is vital to each case. Investigators interview clients and witnesses; compile evidence, conduct criminal record searches and locate witnesses. The role of the division is to gather as much information as possible about each case to assist the trial lawyer in reaching a resolution in each case. The department, led by chief investigator Hilary Sheehan, also serves subpoenas and prepares evidence for trial.
To reach the Investigations division please call (561) 355-7500 or send an email to HSheehan@pd15.state.fl.us.
When children are charged with committing delinquent acts they are represented in Juvenile Court by attorneys in the Juvenile Division. The division – headed by chief Barbara White - works closely with the social services department to identify the juvenile’s circumstances. Delinquent acts are defined as crimes committed by a juvenile.
The State of
To reach the Juvenile Division please call (561) 355-7780 or send an email to BWhite@pd15.state.fl.us.
Major Crimes Division
The Major Crimes Division - a team of highly experienced attorneys - handle the most serious cases in the office, primarily cases where the state is seeking the death penalty. Attorneys work with investigators, mental health experts and social workers to resolve these cases.
Social Services Division
The Social Services Division is comprised of four social workers who work actively with all divisions of the Public Defender's Office to assess the needs of clients and offer alternative sentencing plans when appropriate. Some of the services that the division routinely link clients with include drug treatment, mental health evaluation and treatment, employment services and family counseling. The goal of the division is to identify and seek treatment for problems that might be causing the client to engage in criminal activity. A judge can order these services as part of a client's sentence and make release from prison conditional upon continued treatment or offer alternative sentencing in lieu of incarceration.
To reach the Social Services Division please call (561) 355-7500.