Case & Staff News
A Defender team won a compassionate release motion based on extraordinary family circumstances, shaving more than three years off of a client’s ten-year sentence so he could help his elderly and disabled mother. The client, Mr. G., was convicted of drug trafficking and a firearm offense in 2018. He was sentenced to 96 months of custody. While in custody, he engaged in drug treatment and vocational training. He requested compassionate release based on his own COVID health issues in May 2020, but it was denied. Seattle AFD Dennis Carroll, along with Tacoma paralegal Carolynn Cohn, did some digging into Mr. G’s life and family circumstances to learn that his fiancé, with whom he has two minor children, had serious medical issues that made it difficult for her to care for the children. The Defender Team filed a second motion for compassionate release requesting early release so that the client can help care for his children. Finding that there were extraordinary and compelling circumstances, and noting Mr. G’s rehabilitation in prison, Judge Settle granted the motion. Wonderful news for the client and congrats to him and his family!
Former Federal Public Defender Mike Filipovic and Seattle AFD Andy Kennedy achieved a significant result for a client charged with escape from the residential reentry center. While in prison in another state, the government lodged a detainer against him but failed to take the necessary steps to bring him to this district to be tried. After the length of time provided by state for them to do so passed, Mike and Andy moved to have the charge dismissed and the government agreed that the charge should be dismissed with prejudice. The client can now attempt to get on with his programing in prison and potential release without having to worry about these charges hanging over his head.
Seattle AFD Andy Kennedy and Seattle paralegals Charlotte Ponikvar and Luz Vargas won compassionate release for a client serving a 20-year sentence based upon mandatory minimum sentences that would not have applied to him if he were sentenced today. The team highlighted this injustice in their motion for compassionate release, as well as the risks the client faced in prison due to COVID-19, and his need to care for an aging parent. In her decision reducing the client’s sentence, the Hon. Marsha J. Pechman commented on the “fundamental unfairness” that continuing to imprison the client would represent. Andy, Charlotte, Luz, and the entire FPD are thrilled that their client is now on his way home years earlier than expected!
Client Receives Early Termination from SR!
After having served a 120-month sentence for Possession of a Firearm during a drug trafficking crime, client was transferred from Alaska to the jurisdiction of the Western District of Washington shortly after his release in August 2019. His five years of supervision was set to end in February 2024 but the Federal Defender’s office with significant assistance from Seattle paralegal Charlotte Ponikvar was able to terminate his supervision. The client had a pristine record of no violations of supervision including regular drug testing which was always negative. He was gainfully employed with a stable family of children and grandchildren. Congrats to our client!
After Over 30 Years of Public Defender Work, Federal Defender Mike Filipovic Retires!
Mike Filipovic retired this month after more than 30 years at the Federal Public Defender. Mike has led the office as the Federal Public Defender since 2014 and he will be sorely missed by all. Working for Mike has been an honor and pleasure—he’s has been a hero to many and an anchor to us all. Here are just a few of the comments by the FPD family that show the esteem in which he is held:
- “Supportive, Brilliant” (BF)
- “A really good person who happens to also be a great lawyer and boss” (DC)
- “Efficient, Committed, unhesitating (so much so, he is still emailing me work requests multiple times a day from retirement/vacation/airplanes)” (SS)
- “Relentless” (CF)
- “A lawyer’s lawyer” (MH)
- “Innovative, adaptive, and a sharp thinker” (SBr)
- “Tireless, unflappable. He taught me resilience” (JW)
- “Both dogged and compassionate in fighting for clients” (VPT)
- “Could always be trusted to make sound, strategic decisions for both individual clients and the office as a whole” (AW)
- One attorney in the office has promised to distribute “WWMD” bracelets for everyone so, when faced with a difficult situation, we only have to ask, “What Would Mike Do?”
Another attorney stated, “Over the past eight years as Federal Defender, Mike guided the FPD office with patience, wisdom and passion for our mission and clients. He is a supremely talented lawyer and beloved mentor who will be missed by the entire court community as he cycles off on new adventures.”
Mike grew up in a working-class home on the south side of Chicago and worked part-time in a steel mill to pay for law school. He never lost touch with his working-class roots, so don’t be fooled by his love of craft beers and road bikes. He brings that toughness and resilience to bear in his work. Mike was always the first in the office and the last to leave. Despite the workload, he always made time for lawyers and staff to brainstorm cases and give advice (i.e. “I think you just gotta go hard on this one.” “You’re stickhandling it too much.”)
Mike is one of the rare attorneys who understands arcane legal issues in a case and how it would all play out in front of a jury and judge. Exceptional as both a trial lawyer and appellate lawyer, he is a true “five-tool player.” Over the course of his career Mike worked tirelessly on big cases, including Ahmed Ressam in 2001, but no case was too small for Mike to pursue tenaciously. He loves the work and, despite his (sort of) tough demeanor, cares deeply for his clients. He regularly puts money “on the books” for his clients serving long prison sentences.
Mike’s accolades are many. He is a past president of WACDL (1999-2000) and recipient of the President’s Award in 2019. In 2010, Mike received the "Outstanding Defender Award"—a nationwide honor bestowed by the National Association of Federal Public Defenders—recognizing his years of service as an Assistant Federal Public Defender. He helped rewrite Washington State’s jury instructions as a member of the Pattern Instruction Committee and was honored with the Supreme Court Award for Outstanding Service in 1991.
As the Federal Public Defender, Mike looked out for us all. From ergonomic work stations to telework policies, he improved the lives and health of his employees. He also created a Social Work position, Chief Paralegal position, and CJA Resource Counsel; all of which have helped improve the quality and scope of representation for clients with appointed counsel in the Western District of Washington.
Mike’s job became exponentially more difficult when COVID-19 emerged. Over the last two years, Mike has both prioritized employee safety and fought for our clients who are enduring the pandemic in prison. As difficult as the past two years have been for the office and the world, we always knew that we were in good hands. Mike’s thoughtful leadership allowed the FPD to pivot to telework quickly to protect staff, while also maintaining the already high bar of excellent client representation and fighting for our clients’ safety and access to the courts. Even during the most difficult moments, Mike led the office with grace, humility, and distinction.
For decades, we have benefitted from Mike’s work on criminal defense issues and relied upon his stalwart leadership. We will miss him tremendously and wish him many well-earned hoppy beers and long bike rides. Saying “goodbye” is hard, but only because he means so much to us. We hope he continues to be a presence in the defense community and that this isn’t “goodbye” but instead simply “see you later.”
After more than 24 years at the Federal Public Defender’s Office, Jennifer Wellman is joining Skellenger Bender, where she will continue fighting for the rights and dignity of people accused of crimes and build a civil rights practice. Early in her time at the office, Jennifer worked to end the indefinite detention of people who could not be deported, a herculean effort that helped free thousands of people from prolonged immigration custody. In that work, Jennifer showed what we now know are hallmarks of her practice: compassion for clients, creativity, and tenacity in fighting for justice, and an ability to work with a large group of people with varied priorities and perspectives.
Jennifer has represented hundreds of clients, charged with everything from misdemeanors to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, to murder. Whatever the charge, Jennifer tackles each case with a commitment to knowing the facts (those timelines!) and her clients, with a strategic eye towards her goal. In describing one result, a co-worker put it this way: “Jen, in her classic unwavering manner, worked and worked his case, and then worked some more until she found the cracks and the mitigation that informed her pitch and brought the resolution he wanted.” We have seen this doggedness pay off time and time again, as most recently as during her last week in the office, when Jennifer was able to convince a prosecutor to dismiss charges against her client.
Just as importantly, Jennifer has brought her vision and fighting spirit to more systemic changes and new programs. Jennifer worked to create DREAM, a collaborative drug court that paved the way for similar programs throughout the country. Through DREAM, dozens of people in our district have not only avoided criminal convictions, but have also received necessary support and help to address substance use disorders. Jennifer has been instrumental in developing re-entry programs and partnerships with local organizations, she has found ways to get medically-assisted treatment for clients in custody when the federal government insisted such treatment was not available, she has helped the district address issues of racial disparity and racisms, she has mentored new lawyers, she has helped the office develop its own warrants-quashing program, and the list most certainly goes on. As one co-worker put it, “I don’t know where she finds the time to do everything that she does.” Or as another (more poetic?) co-worker puts it, “Wellman is the wind beneath our wings.”
While we can no longer count Jennifer as our co-worker, she will always be our mentor, ally, and friend.