177 Livingston Street 7th Floor Brooklyn, NY 11201 (718) 254-0700 info@bds.org



The mission of Brooklyn Defender Services is to provide high quality legal representation and related services to people who cannot afford to retain an attorney.

Brooklyn Defender Services is a public defender organization that represents 45,000 people each year who are too poor to afford an attorney. Our staff consists of specialized attorneys, social workers, investigators, paralegals and administrative staff who are experts in their individual fields.

Our staff are highly qualified and specially trained to provide excellent legal representation to people charged with a crime or facing child welfare proceedings. Every client receives the services needed to defend his or her case, including an investigator to track down witnesses or recover evidence, a social worker to improve the life circumstances of our client and an excellent attorney who will analyze the legal issues in the case, try to negotiate a fair resolution of the matter and will represent the client at a trial.

BDS has many services for our clients on-site, including civil legal advocacy, such as assistance with educational needs of our clients or their children, housing and benefits advocacy and immigration advice and representation.

People who are arrested face many obstacles, even if their case was resolved in their favor. Some examples are loss of employment, suspension from school, eviction from public or private housing, deportation, forfeiture of property and loss of licenses. Our goal is to help clients with these issues as they arise. We also work to change these systems by challenging their legality and advocating for changes in the law.

Each year, there are 100,000 arrests in Brooklyn. Eighty-five percent of these arrests are for misdemeanors or a non-criminal offense. Ninety percent of the people arrested cannot afford an attorney. Brooklyn Defender Services staffs the court so that every person has an attorney as soon as they see the judge.

One thousand families each year get a similar benefit—they too have an attorney waiting in the courtroom to help them on the very day that proceedings are filed for removal of their children.

Many of our clients are people with a mental illness. Many of our clients are under the age of 18. A growing number are veterans facing difficulties in returning home. A large portion are suffering with drug addiction or alcoholism. It is only through a zealous voice advocating for those unable to speak for themselves that justice is done. BDS is that voice.


  • Criminal Defense

  • Family Defense

  • Immigration

  • Civil Justice

  • Special Projects


Our primary mission at BDS is to represent people facing serious accusations from the government. We recognize that our clients face many additional challenges and obstacles related to their poverty. As the largest Brooklyn-based legal services provider, BDS’s interdisciplinary staff provides supplemental legal and social services on site to our clients, including immigration attorneys, housing attorneys, an education attorney and social workers who specialize in areas such as mental health and youth advocacy.


Brooklyn Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer’s Project

Brooklyn Justice Corps

Brooklyn Justice Initiatives

Brownsville Community Justice Center

Center for Community Alternatives

Good Shepherd Services

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Pinkerton Fellows at John Jay College of Criminal Justice



In 1996, Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) was selected by the City of New York to become the first borough-specific indigent defense office to handle the cases of poor people arrested in Brooklyn. At that time, BDS represented 10,000 clients each year. In the ensuing years, BDS has established itself as a nationally known public defender office that provides extensive services to the poor community in Brooklyn. BDS employs a large staff of highly dedicated and vibrant attorneys, social workers, investigators and support personnel who work on matters of utmost urgency for the clients we represent—our core public defense practice consists of criminal, family and immigration defense for people facing the dire consequences of imprisonment, loss of their children or deportation.

Originally, BDS represented 10% of the people charged with crimes in Brooklyn. It has since grown to 45%. Our family defense practice handles approximately 80% of the cases of parents facing allegations of abuse or neglect. With the addition of immigration, housing, education and other legal services, BDS has become the largest one-stop legal office for poor people in Brooklyn.

  • 1996 Awarded New Indigent Defense Contract; 10,000 cases funded by Criminal Justice Coordinator’s Office (first time a new institutional defender added to Brooklyn criminal courts)
  • 2001 Adds specialized mental health practice — funded by the Open Society Institute and Van Ameringen Foundation
  • 2002 Works with the Fortune Society to provide Family Court services to ex-offenders
  • 2003 Adds crossover criminal/family practice with funding from New York City Council
  • 2006 Grows from handling 10% of indigent defense case to 20%.
  • 2008 Begins immigration practice
  • 2010 Creates Haitian Immigration Legal Assistance Program in collaboration with local bar associations, a pro bono project later funded by New York Community Trust
  • 2011 Creates and chairs Brooklyn’s multi-agency Racial Justice Task Force — funded by the American Bar Association and the United States Bureau of Justice Assistance
  • 2012 Incorporates Family Defense contract from Legal Services of New York City
  • 2013 Brooklyn Defender Services creates first-in-nation public defense program for detained immigrants
  • 2014 Adds Housing, Benefits and Education Units to Civil Justice Practice
  • 2014 Begins Jail-Based Services Project


Kevin Snover, Chairman of the Board
Gregory Cerchione, Secretary
Jeffrey Rona, Treasurer
Andrea Bonina, Board Member
Jean Hegler, Board Member
Lisa Schreibersdorf, Board Member and Executive Director


Partnerships between public and private attorneys are essential to meet the needs of poor people in Brooklyn. Coordinated by our Pro Bono Counsel, our pro bono program allows private attorneys to work on cases in a variety of ways: representing a client, assisting with impact litigation, and in coordination with the Volunteer Lawyers Project. In addition to professional development, BDS’s pro bono program offers a unique opportunity for attorneys to make an impact in the lives of those most in need of—and with the least access to—quality legal representation.

While zealously advocating on behalf of every individual client, BDS engages in impact litigation and advocacy to reform laws and policies that criminalize poverty and compromise fundamental rights to dignity, family security, and economic opportunity. For example, with pro bono law firm partners, BDS worked to establish a Bail Fund to help clients with low-level misdemeanor charges pay bail and avoid the often devastating consequences of pre-trial detention. The Bail Fund was so successful and met such a critical need that it was able to spin off into an independent entity.

Our community lawyering initiative mobilizes volunteer attorneys, law students and community groups to respond to emerging legal needs in the broader community. In partnership with the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, BDS hosts community legal clinics to assist undocumented Haitian New Yorkers obtain for Temporary Protected Status, and to assist young people or “DREAMers” register for deferred deportation and work authorization.

If you are interested in partnering with BDS on a pro bono matter, please contact Molly Meltzer, Pro Bono Counsel at mmeltzer@bds.org or 718-254-0700 ext. 511.


September 2014

A BDS investigator was recently out on an investigation on the street in Crown Heights talking to a likely witness/friend of a client who wasn’t really warming up to him.   The witness/friend wasn’t hostile, but he wasn’t very forthcoming either.  As the investigator was trying to finesse some more information out of the witness, he noticed someone approach the house from behind him.  The investigator turned toward the person and they made eye contact.

It was “Mr. Johnson,” a former client, and he broke out into the biggest smile and acted like the investigator was an old friend.  The guy he had been talking to immediately started telling the investigator more, interrupted by the two of them talking about how good Brooklyn Defender Services is, how many people they know whom we’ve helped.  “Mr. Johnson” told the other guy that BDS had helped him beat all four counts he faced [he was acquitted of the charges against him].  As a result of this encounter, our current client’s friend/witness gave the investigator his full name and number, said of course he’d try to help us out, since we had helped his friend, and asked for a few more cards to give to anyone who might be able to share more information.

It was a great moment, and now a current client of ours will be better served because of the work we did for “Mr. Johnson” and others.



If you are a Brooklyn resident and cannot afford an attorney, BDS will provide free advice.

In fear of being arrested? Call 718-254-0700 and ask for the operator.

In fear of having your children removed? Call 347-592-2500.



Brooklyn Defender Services seeks to hire a Staff Attorney to join our Family Defense Practice.

See full job posting on Idealist.


BDS’s Family Defense Practice seeks a social worker to become part of the out of court advocate team of social workers and parent advocates.

See full job posting on Idealist


Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) seeks to hire a staff attorney with a commitment to social justice to join our Civil Justice Practice in providing multi-disciplinary legal assistance to clients involved with the criminal, family or immigration court systems.

See full job posting on Idealist


Description and Responsibilities:

The Immigration Practice of Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) seeks summer 2016 law student interns. BDS represents more than 45,000 clients per year in a variety of legal proceedings in New York City, primarily indigent criminal, family, and immigration defense. We believe all people—regardless of economic means—deserve respect, individualized care, and the fullest extent of legal protections whether accused of a crime or facing a civil legal obstacle to justice and opportunity.




BDS Criminal Defense Practice will be interviewing third year law students this fall for full-time post-graduate positions that would begin in September 2016. Our interviewers will meet with candidates at the law schools and job fairs listed below. All interested candidates who are currently attending one of the law schools we will be visiting must apply for an interview through their institution’s on-campus interviewing (OCI) Symplicity system. Students who are not attending one of the schools listed below should apply to be interviewed via one of the three job fairs, if possible. If they will be unable to attend one of these job fairs, they may apply directly via email during the submission period of October 5th to December 4th, 2015. Interested law graduates and admitted attorneys may also apply to be interviewed in our Brooklyn office by submitting a cover letter and resume only during the submission period, October 5th to December 4th, 2015.



Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) seeks a full-time Criminal Defense Paralegal to work with our attorneys and other professional staff.


Paralegal responsibilities will include: Assisting attorneys, investigators, and social workers with obtaining documents such as court documents, medical records or subpoenaed materials. Communicate with clients, family members, treatment programs. Serve/file motions and similar court documents. Conduct legal research and prepare subpoenas. Assist in organizing records and/or discovery materials.  More


BDS is one of the largest public defense providers in the United States. We represent more than 45,000 clients per year in a variety of legal proceedings in New York City, primarily indigent criminal, family, and immigration defense. BDS represents clients who have diverse, complex and multi-faceted needs in a high volume and very fast-paced setting.

Brief Description of Job

BDS seeks an energetic social worker to become an integral part of the mental health unit of the criminal defense practice to provide social work supportive services and advocacy for seriously mentally ill BDS clients in the community, within the City criminal courthouses and correctional facilities. The mental health unit at BDS seeks a social worker to work with individuals who possess a diagnosable mental illness who are facing criminal charges in Brooklyn Supreme and Criminal courts.  More


Brooklyn Defender Services is an interdisciplinary law office that represents almost 40,000 indigent clients arrested each year with specialized legal services for young clients and those with immigration issues. The Family Defense Practice (FDP) represents parents in child welfare cases in Brooklyn Family Court. FDP advocates for clients who have diverse, complex and multi-faceted needs in a high volume and very face-paced setting. FDP seeks a social worker to become part of the out of court advocate team of social workers and parent advocates.

Social workers team up with attorneys and parent advocates to provide comprehensive legal representation to our clients. They advocate for clients at agency case conferences, conduct client assessments, do crisis intervention management, develop service plans for clients, work closely with attorneys to determine case strategy, refer clients for services, communicate with service providers about clients’ needs, and conduct home visits.  More


Brooklyn Defender Services Family Defense Practice (BFDP) is seeking candidates for staff attorney in 2016. BFDP represents low-income parents in child welfare and related family court cases in Brooklyn Family Court. Through holistic representation in an interdisciplinary setting, BFDP helps families obtain the benefits and services they need to keep their families safe and stable. BFDP also advocates for parents’ due process rights by fighting unwarranted state intervention in their lives. The office also advocates for systemic change in the family court and child welfare systems.  More


Criminal Defense Practice Brooklyn Defender Services’ intensive training program is designed for recent law graduates and attorneys who are new to the practice of criminal law in New York. Attorneys spend the first few weeks of their employment at BDS attending in-house lectures on various aspects of criminal defense, shadowing experienced attorneys and practicing their skills through simulations of various aspects of criminal practice.

The Appellate Division has granted us a student practice order which gives us the right to have law students and law graduates working for BDS to appear in court even though they are not yet admitted to practice law. This allows our interns, fellows and recent law graduates to handle cases with supervision.


Summer Internships

BDS has many relationships with local educational institutions, including clinical study programs from New York University Law School (the Offender Re-Entry Clinic, the Family Defense Clinic and the Community Defender Clinic), the Youth Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law School, the Criminal Defense Clinic of St. John’s School of Law and the CUNY Law School Family Law Concentration Clinic.

Brooklyn Defender Services also offers full-time summer internships to law students who have completed their second year of law school and have a commitment to public defense. The internship program is a ten week program. Intern duties may include legal research and writing, representation of clients in arraignments (under supervision), court appearances, client and witness interviews, trial preparation and investigation assistance.

The program is extremely competitive and positions are limited. To apply for a criminal position, please send a cover letter and a resume to Jillian Modzeleski at jmodzeleski@bds.org. If you are interested in a family internship contact Chas Budnick at cbudnick@bfdp.bds.org. If you are interested in an immigration internship contact Nyasa Hickey at nhickey@bds.org. We will accept applications until January 15, 2015.  Selected applicants will be interviewed and decisions made by March 2015.

All internships are volunteer positions. However, BDS will work with students to secure funding from outside sources or class credits where available.

Each year, BDS applies for fellowships for attorneys to work in our office on special projects. This year, we have an 18-month Cardozo Law School Fellow working on the immigration defender project and other short-term fellows working in the family defense practice. If you are interested in a fellowship opportunity speak to Marie Mark at mmark@bds.org.


Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS), a progressive legal defense office in Brooklyn, New York, seeks undergraduates and recent college graduates with an interest in and a commitment to social and criminal justice issues for our Investigative Assistant Internship.  More



October 19, 2015
BDS Testifies Before NYC Council Hearing on the Impacts of Court Obstacles and Overcriminalization on Immigrants (PDF )

Clarence Threlkeld, BDS Immigration Client, Testifies Before City Council About His Courthouse Arrest by ICE (PDF )

October 16, 2015
BDS Response to Discriminatory Department of Correction Plan to Restrict Visiting and Packages and to Rollback Solitary Confinement Reforms

October 13, 2015
BDS Testifies at NYC Board of Correction Hearing on the Department of Correction’s New Policy on Uniforms for People in City Jails (PDF )

October 1, 2015
BDS Testifies at NYC Council Committee on Juvenile Justice Oversight Hearing on Examining ACS’s Juvenile Offender Population (PDF )

September 18, 2015
BDS Testifies at NYC Council Oversight Hearing on the Effectiveness of Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (PDF )

BDS Testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Veterans on Int. 793 – In relation to creating a taskforce to study veterans in the criminal justice system (PDF )

August 18, 2015
BDS Expresses Strong Support for Kalief’s Law (S. 5988/A. 7841) to Ensure Swifter Resolution for Defendants (PDF )

June 17, 2015
BDS Testifies at NYC Council Oversight Hearing on New York’s Bail System and the Need for Reform (PDF )

June 12, 2015
Memo of Support for A2699/ S5593 & A2990/S2029 to Seal Certain Criminal Convictions and “Ban the Box” on Job Applications (PDF )

May 7, 2015
BDS Testifies before NYS Assembly on Criminal Justice Reform (PDF )

May 6, 2015
BDS Testifies at NYC Council Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services Hearing on DOC Reporting Bills (PDF )

Riley Doyle Evans, BDS’ Jail Services Coordinator, Testifies before the New York City Council on the Need for Behavioral Health Screening in City Jails (PDF )

BDS Calls for Provision of “Connections” guidebook to All DOC Detainees Upon Intake at NYC Council Committee on Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Hearing (PDF )

April 23, 2015
Memo of Support for S.3675/A.4821 to End the Criminalization of So-Called “Gravity Knives” (PDF )

April 14, 2015
Keren Farkas, Director of BDS’ Education Unit, Testifies at NYC Council Hearing on School Discipline Reform (PDF )

March 27, 2015
Testimony Before the New York City Council Committee on Courts & Legal Services Preliminary Budget Hearing (PDF )

March 20, 2015
Memo to Legislators: Raise the Age Reform Will Cause Additional Delays in Resolving Child Welfare Cases in Family Court (PDF )

March 17, 2015
Testimony before New York City Council on ACS & DHS Preliminary FY2016 Budget (PDF )

March 3, 2015
BDS’s Jail Services Coordinator Riley Doyle Evans Testifies at the NYC Council Hearing on Healthcare in City Jails

Letter to NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Legislation Expanding Unconstitutional, Counterproductive Sex Offender Exclusions (PDF )

February 25, 2015
BDS’s Veterans Advocacy Specialist Cameron Mease Testifies at the NYC Council Hearing on Veterans Treatment Courts

February 23, 2015
Sergio Jimenez, Housing Unit Director at BDS, joins NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and Advocates to Call for Improved Language Access in Housing Courts

February 10, 2015
BDS Calls for Board of Correction Scrutiny of DOC’s Implementation of New Solitary Rules

December 30, 2014
BDS Sends Open Letter to City, State, & Federal Elected Officials Urging Intervention to Stop DOC’s Expansion of Solitary Confinement through “Enhance Supervision Housing Unit” program

December 19, 2014
BDS testifies at Board of Corrections hearing on Enhanced Supervision Housing

December 9, 2014
Sergio Jimenez, Director of BDS’ Civil Justice Practice, Testifies before the NYS Assembly Hearing on Civil Forfeiture (PDF )

November 13, 2014
BDS’s Lisa Schreibersdorf Speaks to the NYS Assembly on the Fundamental Inappropriateness of Prisons and Jails as Mental Health Treatment

October 8, 2014
BDS Testifies before the NYC Council on (Mis)Treatment of Adolescents in New York City Jails

June 12, 2014
BDS’s Lisa Schreibersdorf Speaks in Support of NYC Council Bill Requiring Public Reporting on DOC’s Use of Solitary Confinement


Brooklyn Defender Services handles approximately 40 percent of the overall criminal cases for the Borough of Brooklyn, making our client profile indicative, if not entirely representational, of the wider law enforcement trends across the city, as they pertain to arrests, custody and court adjudication.



BDS’s Special Litigation Counsel works with BDS defenders and clients, outside counsel and activists, to identify systemic criminal justice deficiencies and constitutional violations that unjustly affect criminal justice outcomes for our clients. Once identified, special litigation lawyers strategically litigate those issues in State and Federal courts to improve both process and outcomes for all accused New Yorkers. From challenging unreasonable bail conditions when a case starts to overbroad barriers to re-entry when it’s over, BDS is striving to make the criminal justice system accountable to those it intends to serve through its growing impact litigation practice.


Brooklyn Defender Services has amassed a wealth of experience and expertise on the complexities that inform our client’s lives and their involvement in the justice system. BDS works with each of the courts and other stakeholders to improve procedures and policies that affect our clients in each of the courts where we are the institutional provider.

As zealous advocates for our clients and the communities we serve, it is also our duty to contribute to the larger conversations taking place within the criminal, family and immigration justice systems in order to facilitate meaningful changes. Through our presence on working groups and coalitions, the use of our external communications, position papers, blog, and other forums we seek to educate system players, legislators and community members about the critical issues facing our clients and give voice to some of New York’s most vulnerable populations.





From left to right: Cameron Mease, Staff Attorney & Veterans Defense Coordinator, Brooklyn Defender Services; Dawn Ryan, Attorney In Charge, Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Criminal Defense Office; Mia Santiago, STEP/MBTC Project Director, Criminal Court of New York City (Brooklyn); Martina Parauda, Director, VA, NY Harbor Health Care System; Hon. Melissa C. Jackson, Administrative Judge, Criminal Court of New York City; Hon. Craig S. Walker, Presiding Judge of BMVTC; Representative from the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs; Hon. Michael J. Yavinsky, Supervising Judge, Kings County Criminal Court.

On November 18, 2015, lawyers, judges, court staff and social service providers convened to celebrate the opening of the Brooklyn Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court (BMVTC). The court connects veterans charged in low-level misdemeanor cases to social service providers including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A veteran’s successful completion of treatment results in non-criminal dispositions and case dismissals.

BDS Staff Attorney and Veterans Defense Coordinator Cameron Mease, who testified recently on veterans in the criminal justice system, spoke at the event:

“Veterans, while strong, can still be vulnerable and while independent, are still deserving of our support. With greater numbers of veterans being identified and given special attention by the courts, BDS is accordingly expanding in-house services. Our team of social workers, paralegals, immigration attorneys and housing and benefits attorneys will continue to learn how we can best connect our veteran clients with the services they want and deserve.”



The point of diversion is public safety. Diversion programs, or prison alternatives, have successfully lowered prison and jail populations by addressing the root causes of criminal behavior. For two decades, Brooklyn Defender Services has worked to establish and support alternative-to-incarceration options and problem-solving courts in Kings County. Brooklyn diversion programs have been an enormous success: Arrests are down and fewer people are spending unnecessary time in jail or prison.

Executive Director Lisa Schreibersdorf published an opinion piece in the Gotham Gazette last week outlining the important role that diversion programs play in keeping New Yorkers safe. Her article comes in the wake of government backlash against diversion programs after the tragic death of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder. As we mourn and seek answers to this tragedy, we must not repeat the mistakes of past decades and allow retributive impulses to supersede evidence-based approaches to public safety.



BDS’ New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) team and the NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic won a precedential ruling in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit last week. The Second Circuit’s decision in Lora v. Shanahan now assures a bond hearing and the chance at liberty for detained immigrants in proceedings in New York if detained for more than six months. The Court ruled last week that “mandatory detention for longer than six months without a bond hearing affronts due process.”

The New York Times wrote recently of the victory, noting the importance for many New York families:

The ruling applies to immigrants convicted of certain crimes that are considered removable offenses. Previously there had been no limit on how long they could be detained while awaiting an immigration hearing. The decision could affect hundreds of immigrants in the New York City area alone.



Clarence Threlkeld


19 OCTUBRE 2015

En la primavera del año pasado Clarence Threlkeld acudió a su segunda audiencia en la Corte Criminal de Brooklyn para resolver un caso por un delito menor y, de repente, fue arrestado por agentes del Servicio de Inmigración (ICE).

“Había ido a mi segunda cita en la corte y cuando fui a entrar escuché mi nombre, pensé que era mi abogado, el que se me había asignado. Pero eran dos hombres vestidos de civil que me informaron que había una orden de arresto de parte de Inmigración”, relató Threlkeld, quien es padre de cinco hijos.  More