2006 Recipient

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Where presented : 
NLADA Annual Conference
Recipient(s) name: 
Shelley Davis, Farmworker Justice, and Lawrence Sullivan, Public Defender of the State of Delaware
Reason for selection of recipient(s): 

Shelley Davis has demonstrated, during a distinguished 27 year career, a powerful dedication to the interests of poor people, exceptional legal skill in several disciplines and multiple forums,and outstanding achievements through extraordinary and successful legal advocacy on behalf of clients who could not otherwise afford counsel. She has significantly advanced the cause of equal justice for individual clients and low-income communities and has made significant contributions
in several areas of public-interest law and for several important large groups of disadvantaged people. While employed at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, at two different times in her career, Davis litigated class actions and engaged in high-impact policy work on behalf of poor people who were deprived of special education services, mental health services and Social Security benefits.

For 18 of the last 20 years, Davis has represented migrant and seasonal farm workers and their family members at the national and local levels in the complex areas of labor law, immigration policy, occupational safety, environmental justice and access to health care. She has engaged in advocacy in virtually every available forum: federal and state courts at every level, administrative agencies, state and federal legislatures and the court of public opinion. Her work has been international in scope to address the transnational character of the farm labor force. Davis has become widely known among farm worker, environmental, civil rights, Latino, labor and public health advocates – for her strenuous advocacy in courts, Congress and administrative agencies to prevent farm workers and farm worker communities from being poisoned by pesticides.

Delaware established one of the first statewide public defender systems in 1964. Since 1970, Lawrence Sullivan has served as Delaware’s public defender. During his tenure, Sullivan has gone far beyond the call of Gideon v. Wainwright. Throughout Sullivan’s distinguished career, he has significantly advanced the case of equal justice for indigent defendants. His valuable mixture of pragmatism and forward-looking vision has resulted in several “firsts” including, but not limited
to, the nation’s first Psycho-Forensic Unit and the nation’s first statewide criminal justice videophone system. Some of the other innovative programs Sullivan has initiated include: comprehensive capital defense teams and mitigation specialists, where each capital client is represented by such a team that includes a lead counsel, an associate counsel, a mitigation specialist, a forensic unit member, a fact investigator and at least one outside expert to screen for mental or psychological disorders. The lead counsel on these teams has at least ten years experience and a prior capital case experience, giving the capital client the best defense possible. Sullivan makes sure that mitigation work is an integral part of the capital defense, resulting in a high number of pre-trial resolutions or mitigation hearing advocacy rather than death sentences.

In 2000, Sullivan initiated a statewide Innocence Project to provide representation to defendants seeking post-conviction DNA testing. He has also made inhouse training in the science of DNA mandatory for his trial attorneys and staff. As a result, Delaware defendants have the benefit of well-trained local attorneyswith greater access to potentially exculpatory evidence to investigate and present viable Innocence Project claims. Participation in the project has also provided
valuable DNA expertise to Sullivan’s trial attorneys.