adi'S history

THE FIRST DECADE (1972-1981)

It was 1972, and low-quality representation in appointed criminal cases plagued the California appellate system. The state had neither standards for selecting attorneys nor means of training them in the specialized needs of appellate practice. A major step to address this problem was taken in September 1972 when, with the leadership of J. Perry Langford, the sponsorship of the San Diego County Bar Association, and federal grant funding, Appellate Defenders, Inc., was born. Its mission was to handle all appointed appeals in San Diego using a small core of experienced staff attorneys to represent clients and supervise a panel of private counsel.

Appellate Defenders began as a small operation in the University of San Diego cellar but grew rapidly. On October 5, 1972, J. Perry Langford reported the organization had filed its first brief; he ventured, "It would appear that we will be filing a great many more."

In 1976 Appellate Defenders’ funding was assumed by a contract with the newly created State Public Defender, a statewide appellate defense agency. By the end of the 1970’s Appellate Defenders had roughly doubled in size and moved to a downtown high-rise. J. Perry Langford had been named to the superior court, and Elaine Alexander had succeeded him as executive director. Paul Bell had become the first assistant director.

In 1980 Appellate Defenders' employees were hired by the State Public Defender, and Appellate Defenders no longer operated as a active law firm. But the corporate shell was kept in place "just in case" – a move that proved prophetic.


In 1983, Governor Deukmejian vetoed 50% of the budget of the State Public Defender, forcing the closing of the San Diego office and the layoff of its employees. Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and Fourth Appellate District Presiding Justice Gerald Brown approved Appellate Defenders’ proposal to expand its system to the whole district, which included courts in San Bernardino and Santa Ana, as well as San Diego.

Appellate Defenders applied to the Bar Association for a $30,000 start-up loan; the bar board, on motion made by Richard Huffman, then Chief Deputy District Attorney and later a justice of the Court of Appeal, approved the loan application.

After a summer and fall of exhausting work and trauma, when approval of the new judicially sponsored program was in doubt, Elaine Alexander reported to the Board of Directors with great pride that Appellate Defenders, Inc., had resumed operations on November 15, 1983, ending an inactive period of three years. Most of the employees of the State Public Defender office in San Diego, including many who had worked for Appellate Defenders three years earlier, were joined by an additional attorney and two newly hired secretaries to form the staff of the revived program. Appellate Defenders, for the second time in 11 years, was a pilot project.

Under the system Appellate Defenders used a staff of highly regarded appellate attorneys (ranging in number from about one to two dozen, depending on caseload and programmatic factors) to manage a panel of several hundred private attorneys – assessing and ranking their qualifications, matching them with cases suited to their capabilities, assisting them with issue identification and briefing, evaluating their work, and recommending their compensation. In addition, the office provided training and resource materials to the panel and broader legal community, information and services to the Court of Appeal and Judicial Council, and help to unrepresented defendants. Its staff attorneys also directly represented a number of clients. The office took on juvenile dependency, as well as criminal, cases, and its caseload grew from about 200 annually to over 2000.

Following Appellate Defenders’ great success in its new role, similar projects were created in every other appellate district, soon to be considered a critical part of California’s appointed counsel system. For the first time in its history, Appellate Defenders was no longer a pilot project, but rather a keystone of an innovative system of appellate defense that brought a level of high quality, consistency, and efficiency unparalleled in any other time or jurisdiction.

In 1989, in recognition of her outstanding leadership in extending legal services to the poor in California, Elaine Alexander received the Loren Miller Legal Services Award from the State Bar of California. The award is recognized as the state bar’s most prestigious award.

For a special, semi-autobiographical perspective on the founding and transformation of ADI and the birth of the appellate project system, see Elaine Alexander's remarks upon accepting the Fay Stender Award from California Women Lawyers on September 29, 2016.

THE THIRD DECADE (1992-2002)

In 1994 the Board of Directors of the Defender Programs of San Diego bestowed on staff attorney, Carmela Simoncini, the annual E. Stanley Conant Award for her unselfish devotion and diligence in protecting the rights of the indigent accused. Presenting the award to Ms. Simoncini was her former client, Frederick R. Daye, who had served eight years of a lengthy term for rape when Ms. Simoncini took his case and, through DNA testing on evidence that had been about to be destroyed, was able to prove Mr. Daye’s innocence.

1997 marked the celebration of Appellate Defender’s 25th anniversary. At the anniversary party, the office paid special tribute to Paul Bell, who had passed away in July 1997, after a valiant fight with cancer. He had been with the office since 1974 and had served as its assistant director since 1979. The board of directors established a fellowship in his name, to send a panel attorney each year to the National Legal Aid and Defender Association appellate training conference in New Orleans. It also created the Paul Bell Award, for outstanding service in indigent appellate work. The first winner was Lynda Romero, a distinguished panel attorney and former staff attorney and a dear friend of Paul’s.

Entering into the new millennium Appellate Defenders, Inc., outgrew its office suite in the Center City Building and relocated to 555 West Beech Street. The move permitted all attorneys and staff to reside on a single floor. The conference room was named the J. Perry Langford Conference Room, in honor of Appellate Defenders' founder. The library was named the Paul Bell Memorial Library and included a special display with his biography, awards, and other memorabilia.

In keeping with current technology, Appellate Defenders created a Web site to provide timely information to appellate counsel and to offer numerous practical resources. It also provided its newsletter on line and began E-mail alerts to the members of the appointed counsel panel, notifying them of seminars, significant changes in the law, and "kudos" recounting successful cases handled by their peers.

In the spring of 2000, Appellate Defenders worked with the other projects and the Judicial Council to sponsor an innovative appellate practice college for twelve promising members of the panels around the state. That fall Appellate Defenders began bringing the college to the panel "back home" with a monthly brown bag series, presented by all Appellate Defenders staff attorneys working in rotation. With the sponsorship of the Judicial Council it also presented a three-day dependency seminar for about 60 attorneys in the Paul Bell library.

When the third decade drew to a close, Appellate Defenders had approximately 18 staff attorneys and 15 other staff members and administered a panel of over 350 private attorneys. Over 2500 appointments were being made each year. In addition to its core work of managing the system of appointed counsel in the Fourth Appellate District, the office was active in improving the overall legal system and the quality of appellate practice: for example, it was working on various comprehensive appellate practice manuals and other publications, participating in numerous seminars, helping to revise appellate rules and jury instructions, and training outstanding law students, as well as lawyers, in appellate practice.

And, as it progressed into its fourth decade, it appeared that Appellate Defenders, Inc. -- to echo J. Perry Langford's words of three decades earlier -- would be doing a great deal more.


In the new millennium, ADI indeed did “a great deal more,” continuing its pioneering spirit and trail-blazing ways.

The decade saw the launching of the Appellate Practice Manual, a triumph for Elaine Alexander and Howard Cohen, primary authors and editors, as well as countless others. The Manual is updated several times each year and is available free on the ADI website. Its intended audience is the panel. It guides the way through the appellate process in nine chapters:

  • Chapter one walks through life on the panel, from admission, to cases, client relations, evaluations, and compensation.
  • Chapter two explores getting an appeal underway – what can be appealed and how to start the process.
  • Chapter three addresses the practical matters of completing the record, getting extensions of time, and getting eligible clients out of custody during appeal.
  • Chapter four deals with the all-important question of issue-spotting and its equally vital flip side – catching anti-issues, which make the client worse off after appeal.
  • Chapter five tackles briefing – from construction of component parts to grammar and rhetoric and the great art of persuasiveness.
  • Chapter six is on oral argument and how to turn it from an endurance test to an effective tool of persuasion.
  • Chapter seven talks about court decisions and what counsel can do about the (sadly, many) unfavorable ones. It also looks at California Supreme Court practice.
  • Chapter eight shines some light on writs, the sometimes arcane area that ranges from the familiar habeas corpus to more mysterious, Latin-laden procedures.
  • Chapter nine confronts the world of federal habeas corpus, which is not directly in ADI’s jurisdiction, but for which counsel must preserve some issues.

The website itself continued as a work in progress. It received several modernizing facelifts during the fourth decade and also expanded its content enormously, to include numerous forms and samples, practice articles, a compensation manual, filing and service chart, recent changes in the law, an index to project websites, Fourth District practice guide, self-help guide, the ever-popular Kudos, and much more.
In this decade ADI mourned the loss of its long-time legal administrator, Ernie Palacio, at the age of 45. He had been a linchpin of its architecture from nearly the first day of ADI’s “rise from the ashes” in 1983. Ernie received the 2007 Distinguished Citizen Award from the San Diego County Bar Association for his outstanding contributions to ADI and to the entire legal community.

In 2012 ADI used the Paul Bell Fellowship to offer a day-long seminar for the whole panel, featuring Bryan Garner, a nationally renowned speaker on appeals. Another celebrity speaker was Sister Helen Prejean, of Dead Man Walking fame, who keynoted the 2007 annual dinner.

In this decade ADI also made some forays into the juvenile court, including administration of dependency writs for 16 months. The staff continued to contribute to legal learning in the form of rules, jury instructions, sample briefs, seminars, MCLE materials, and articles. ADI progressed closer to its vision of a paperless office, starting an ambitious e-service program. It also laid the ground work for a new case management system, which would lead us inexorably into the fifth decade . . . .


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*The material found on this website is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered to be legal advice and is not guaranteed to be complete or up to date. Use of this website is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between the user and Appellate Defenders, Inc. (ADI) or any of the firm's attorneys. Readers should not rely upon or act upon this information without seeking professional counsel. See full disclaimer.