2020 Recipients

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Where presented : 
Exemplar Award Dinner
Recipient(s) name: 
Adeola Ogunkeyede, Chief Public Defender for Travis County, Texas, and Jennifer Bias, Wisconsin State Public Defenders (SPD) Trial Division Director
Reason for selection of recipient(s): 

Adeola Ogunkeyede recently became the first-ever Chief Public Defender for Travis County, Texas, where she is tasked with building a holistic public defender’s office from the ground up. Through a genuine commitment to bridging the gap between civil and criminal legal systems and to ensuring that community lawyering and racial justice are at the core of her work, Adeola’s impact is truly transformative. 

For the past three years, Adeola served as the inaugural director for the Legal Aid Justice Center’s (LAJC) Civil Rights and Racial Justice Program (CRRJ). As designed by Adeola, CRRJ works to reform the criminal legal system’s over-reliance on incarceration and perpetuation of racial inequity through a strategic mix of community organizing, local and statewide policy advocacy, and impact litigation. Resisting lawyer-driven advocacy, Adeola instead opted to let the communities in Charlottesville and Richmond identify their own priorities, which she then vigorously supported. 

Under Adeola’s leadership, CRRJ and its community partners secured significant victories. Here are just a few examples out of many: CCRJ helped organize the People’s Coalition in Charlottesville, which worked tireless for more than two years to get the Charlottesville City Counsel to pass an ordinance creating the third-ever Police Civilian Review Board in the state; CCRJ won a finding of non-compliance against the Virginia Department of Corrections in a class action challenging the medical care in a Virginia prison; CCRJ collaborated with the Richmond Public Defender’s office to remove Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” law, which criminalized homelessness and substance use disorder from the Virginia Code; and CCRJ worked to secure repeal of Virginia’s practice of automatically suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid court debt. 

Motivated by her conviction that legal aid has a critical role to play in dismantling racial oppression in the criminal legal system, Adeola patiently worked with her colleagues and members of the Board at LAJC to pursue racial justice as a core, animating feature of LAJC’s work. In just three short years, Adeola established a legacy that has forever changed LAJC and the communities it serves.

Prior to her work in Virginia, Adeola was the director of staff development and litigation supervisor of the criminal practice at The Bronx Defenders, where she began her career as a staff attorney. Throughout her career, Adeola has stood astride the artificial chasm between the civil and defender worlds and made each one better by influencing the other.


Jennifer Bias is the Wisconsin State Public Defenders (SPD) Trial Division Director. For over 30 years, Jennifer has been a powerful voice on behalf of her clients, approaching the issues that low-income, justice-involved people face with a total grasp of the law and the utmost respect for each and every human life.

Overseeing a staff of more than 550 who provide representation in all 72 of Wisconsin’s counties, Jennifer is focused on serving clients with excellence, including tackling complex issues within the agency including racial disparities, juvenile issues, immigration, forensics, family defense, sexually violent persons commitments, and abusive head trauma. She was instrumental in putting in place practice groups to develop subject matter experts who could in turn be a resource for staff and private attorneys taking public defender appointments. Additionally, she provides consistent training and individual mentorship for both SPD staff, as well as outside partners in law enforcement, prosecution, and the judiciary.

Through Jennifer’s collaborative advocacy, the number of treatment courts in Wisconsin has risen to 85, with more than half of Wisconsin’s counties serviced. This allows for justice-involved individuals with substance abuse disorder to be treated for their underlying health issues and to avoid some of the collateral consequences that accompany traditional criminal prosecutions.

Jennifer has supported many OSPD statewide policy reforms that have had extensive impact on the quality and scope of indigent defense services in Wisonsin. She was instrumental in raising the eligibility guidelines in Wisconsin, once among the more prohibitive in the country,  so that more people qualify for a public defender. Jennifer also worked closely to obtain funding and authorization to provide representation for parents facing a child protection order. Recognizing that increased pay was essential to retaining and rewarding SPD attorneys for their work, Jennifer supported the leadership’s collaborative work with prosecutors and the legislature to increase staff pay.  In addition she worked closely with OSPD leadership to build the case to raise the lowest hourly rate in the nation for conflict counsel from $40 an hour to $70, which resulted in an almost 20% increase to the SPD budget.

Additionally, she has been asked by Governors of both parties to sit on high profile committees including the Pardon Advisory Board, the Juvenile Justice Commission, the Commission on Reducing Racial Disparities, and the Commission on Racial Profiling.