About Public Defender
Carlos J. Martinez

Biographical Information
Honors & Awards
Memberships and Activities
Publications
 
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Biographical Information

Carlos J. Martinez, a native of Cuba, has dedicated his professional life to public service, using his legal talents in service of the poor.

Arriving to Miami from Cuba on a 1969 Freedom Flight, he learned the meaning of hard work and determination at an early age. Since he was 10 years old until he began working at Exxon gas stations, Carlos often helped his dad, Celedonio, after school. Carlos would mop floors and clean the Little Havana church where his father worked as a maintenance man and where his mother, Yara, was the church’s receptionist.

Carlos credits his parents and his religious upbringing for his passion for social justice and for helping the poor. “I am living my American dream. I am doing something I love. I am fortunate to work in an office with highly dedicated individuals where we can be proud of what we do every day –helping people who are less fortunate and whose freedom and future well-being is in jeopardy. By serving as the Public Defender, I’m honoring my mother and father’s values and the sacrifices they made for us to live and prosper in a free country.”

At 16, Carlos was hired as a car wash attendant at an Exxon station. Within three years, Carlos was simultaneously managing six gas stations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. He worked full-time to pay for his undergraduate college education. He attended Miami-Dade College, the University of Texas-Austin and graduated from Florida International University with a B.A. in Political Science in 1985. In 1990, Carlos received his J.D. from the University of Miami. He represented indigent clients at the trial and appellate level in Miami Dade, Florida and Bellingham, Washington. Prior to becoming the Public Defender, Carlos was a top administrator in the Public Defender’s office for 12 years and he led litigation efforts, designed and implemented management and legal reforms, and drafted legislation and grant proposals.

He was elected public defender in 2008, and re-elected in 2012 and 2016 without opposition. Carlos is the first Cuban-American Public Defender and the only elected Hispanic Public Defender in the U.S. As Public Defender, Carlos manages an office of approximately 400 employees, handling approximately 75,000 cases each year.

Carlos has often stated that “fighting for individual rights and equal justice, for the downtrodden, the despised, the voiceless and the invisible, has not just given me great professional satisfaction, it has given meaning to my life.”

Carlos created numerous volunteer initiatives such as the “Redemption Project” (helping ex-felons regain their civil and employment rights), “Play It Smart” (teaching young people how to interact with law enforcement), “Consequences Aren’t Minor” (educating adolescents and adults about the direct and collateral consequences of illegal behavior and arrest), the Equal Justice Roundtable (a faith community collaboration to address social injustice and improve public safety), a statewide public defender management training program, and Juvenile Justice CPR (Charting a Path to Redemption), a legal reform initiative designed to help troubled kids achieve the American dream. Carlos led the statewide effort to ban the indiscriminate shackling of detained children in juvenile courts. He has worked tirelessly to address the crisis of minority children being cycled from the school house to the jail house, and to protect the confidentiality of juvenile records.

Carlos has a long list of outstanding honors and achievements. In 2009, Carlos received the FIU Distinguished Alumni Torch Award for the College of Law and was inducted into the Miami-Dade College Alumni Hall of Fame. In 2006, the Florida Public Defender Association (FPDA) awarded Carlos the Association’s prestigious Craig Stewart Barnard Award for Outstanding Service. Carlos also served two years as Vice President of the FPDA. Carlos is a member of Iron Arrow, the highest honor bestowed by the University of Miami.

He recently served as government lawyer liaison to The Florida Bar Board of Governors and is a member to the University of Miami School of Law National Advisory Council.

Carlos chaired the Representation Subcommittee of The Florida Bar’s Commission on the Legal Needs of Children, and later served as Chair of the Bar’s Legal Needs of Children Committee. He has also served on the Supreme Court of Florida Steering Committee on Drug Courts and the Steering Committee on Families and Children, the National Institute of Corrections’ National Advisory Committee on Evidence Based Decision Making for Local Criminal Justice Systems, the Florida Blueprint Commission on Juvenile Justice and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Zero Tolerance Task Force.

Carlos has served on technical assistance and training teams across the United States and Latin America, including the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD - Dominican Republic, Chile and Mexico), the Honduran National Office of Public Defense, and the Public Defender Offices in Schenectady County (NY), San Bernardino County (CA), Maricopa County (Phoenix, AZ), and Marion County (Indianapolis, IN). He recently authored a chapter, Helping Adolescents Succeed: Assuring a Meaningful Right to Counsel, for the book “A New Juvenile Justice System Total Reform for a Broken System,” New York University Press, Edited by Nancy E. Dowd (2015) and a law review article, You Are The Last Lawyer They Will Ever See Before Exile: Padilla V. Kentucky And One Indigent Defender Office’s Account Of Creating A Systematic Approach To Providing Immigration Advice In Times Of Tight Budgets And High Caseloads, Fordham Urban Law Journal (2011).

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Honors and Awards

  • University of Miami School of Law, Society of Bar and Gavel’s Alumni Leadership Award (2017)
     

  • University of Miami School of Law, Inter-American Law Review’s Lawyer of the Americas Award (2017)
     

  • South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Lifetime Achievement Award (2016)
     

  • St. John Community Development Corporation, Exemplary Public Service Award (2016)
     

  • Dade County Police Benevolent Association, Fred Maas Outstanding Law Enforcement Leadership Award (2016)
     

  • Florida’s Children First, Child Advocate Of the Year Award (2016)
     

  • Theodore R. Gibson Memorial Fund, Commitment to Diversity, Honoree (2015)
     

  • The Florida Public Defender Association, President’s award (2015)
     

  • The Mental Health Transformation in Action Commitment to Justice Award (2015)
     

  • The Minority Chamber of Commerce, “Citizen of the Year Award” (2013)
     

  • University of Miami Law's Center for Ethics and Public Service, Lawyers in Leadership Award (2012)
     

  • Kiwanis of Coral Gables Freedom Award (2012)
     

  • Spanish American League Against Discrimination (SALAD), Distinguished Service Recognition (2012)
     

  • Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Award (2010)
     

  • Phi Alpha Delta, Law Fraternity International, Rasco Chapter, Alumni of the Year Award (2010)
     

  • Florida’s Children First, Children’s Advocate Award (2009) 
     

  • University of Miami Law Alumni Association, Alumni Achievement Award (2009)
     

  • Colegio de Abogados de La Habana, Ignacio Agramonte Loynaz Award (2009)
     

  • Dade County Bar Association, the Robert L. Shevin Public Service Award (2009)
     

  • The Richmond Heights’ Crime Watch Award (2009)
     

  • Inductee, Miami-Dade College Alumni Hall of Fame (2009)
     

  • Recipient, FIU Distinguished Alumni Torch Award for the College of Law (2009)
     

  • Vice president of the bi-partisan Florida Public Defender Association (FPDA) (2006-2007)
     

  • FPDA, Craig Stewart Barnard award for relentless pursuit of justice and outstanding service to the Florida’s public defender system (2006)
     

  • Florida Supreme Court, Chief Justice’s commendation for dedicated service (2004)
     

  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami, dedicated service award (2004)
     

  • Dade County Bar Association Pro Bono Project, public service award (2003)
     

  • Juvenile Justice Board, 11th Judicial Circuit, Florida, exemplary service as board chair (2002)
     

  • Florida Bar Commission, Legal Needs of Children, 4 years’ dedicated service (2002)
     

  • Dade Miami Criminal Justice Council, for diligent service, support and commitment (2002)
     

  • Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government, member, Executive Sessions on Public Defense (1999-2001)
     

  • University of Miami, Iron Arrow Honor Society (inducted 1989)
     

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Activities & Memberships

State, Local, National and International Activities and Memberships
(past and present)

 Juvenile Justice

  • Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Zero Tolerance Task Force Member
     
  • Florida Blueprint Commission on Juvenile Justice
     
  • The Florida Bar, Commission on the Legal Needs of Children, Chair, Representation Subcommittee; Standing Committee on the Legal Needs of Children, Chair & Vice Chair
     
  • Florida Supreme Court Committees, Appointed by Three Chief Justices: Families and Children in the Court; Treatment-Based Drug Court Steering Committee; and Children’s Leadership Forum
     
  • Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Detention Risk Assessment Committee
     
  • Florida Public Defender Association, Inc., Chair & Co-Chair Juvenile Justice Committee
     
  • The Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment, Honorary Board Member
     
  • City of Miami Police Department, Do The Right Thing Program, Board Member
     
  • National Juvenile Defender Center, Investigator, Assessment of Access to Counsel and Quality of Representation in Juvenile Delinquency Proceedings in Florida
     
  • Juvenile Justice Board, 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida, Chair
     
  • Unified Family Court Advisory Board, 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida
     
  • Public Defender’s Juvenile Justice CPR (Charting a Path to Redemption)

 

Child Advocacy and Mentoring

  • 5000 Role Models of Excellence
     
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami, Mentor for five years
     
  • Florida’s Children First, Board of Directors
     
  • Miami Senior High School Legal and Public Affairs Magnet Program, Advisory Committee
     
  • Law Enforcement Officers Memorial High School, Advisory Committee
     
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of Whatcom County, Washington, Board of Directors

 

Technical Assistance to Public Defender Offices

  • Served on technical assistance teams to the Honduran National Office of Public Defense, and the Public Defender Offices in Schenectady County (NY), San Bernardino County (CA), Maricopa County (Phoenix, AZ), and Marion County (Indianapolis, IN).

 

Drug Courts

  • Trainer/presenter in Chile, Dominican Republic and Mexico
     
  • National Association of Drug Court Professionals, Drug Court Standards Committee; COPS/Community Courts Linkages Committee; Panelist, The Drug Court Team (1995); Panelist, Dealing with Change in Existing Drug Courts (1996)
     
  • Justice Management Institute, Faculty/Facilitator, Drug Courts (1995, 1996, 1999)

 

Legislation

  • Numerous appearances before Florida Legislature on various substantive and appropriations matters
     
  • Drafted legislation and amendments, including student loan repayment assistance, revision 7 to Article V, indiscriminate shackling of children, blended sentencing, sealing and expungement of records, confidentiality and juvenile waiver of counsel
     
  • Florida House of Representatives, Panelist, Revision 7 to Article V of Florida Constitution, Select Committee on Article V
     
  • Dade Miami Criminal Justice Council, Chair, Legislation Ad Hoc Committee
     
  • Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Crime and Drug Prevention Subcommittee, Legislative Committee Co-chair
     
  • Juvenile Justice Board, Legislative Committee Co-chair

 

Management Training

  • Florida Public Defender Association, Organizer/Faculty/Facilitator, Executive Management Training
     
  • National Defender Leadership Institute, Faculty/Facilitator, Building Leadership and Political Outreach Skills, New Leadership Conference; Nuts and Bolts of Leadership and Management
     
  • Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, Faculty/Facilitator, Nuts and Bolts of Managing and Leading a Public Interest Law Office

 

Professional Memberships (alpha order)

  • American Bar Association
    • Criminal Justice Council
    • Co-Chair, Criminal Justice Section Defense Function Committee
       
  • American Council of Chief Defenders
    • Co-Chair, Best Practices Committee
    • Caseload Standards Task Force
    • DOJ Conference Curriculum Development working group
       
  • American Inns of Court
    • Spellman-Hoeveler Chapter, Board of Directors
       
  • Caribbean Bar Association
     
  • Cuban American Bar Association
     
  • Dade County Bar Association
     
  • Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Statewide Chapter Representative
    • Pro Bono and Public Defender Liaison Committee
       
  • Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Miami Chapter Board of Directors
     
  • Florida Public Defender Association, Inc., Vice President; Legislation, Article V, Training, Futures and Audit Committees
     
  • Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Bar Association
     
  • Haitian Lawyers Association
     
  • Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Member, Executive Sessions on Public Defense
     
  • Hispanic National Bar Association
     
  • Miami Beach Bar Association
     
  • National Association for Public Defense
     
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
     
  • National Legal Aid and Defender Association
     
  • Puerto Rican Bar Association
     
  • South Miami Kendall Bar Association
     
  • Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Bar Association

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Publications

Helping Adolescents Succeed: Assuring a Meaningful Right to Counsel, for the book “A New Juvenile Justice System Total Reform for a Broken System,” New York University Press, Edited by Nancy E. Dowd (2015)

Immigration Consequences: Thousand of Cuban Exiles in Jeopardy, CABA Briefs (2015)

You Are The Last Lawyer They Will Ever See Before Exile: Padilla V. Kentucky And One Indigent Defender Office’s Account Of Creating A Systematic Approach To Providing Immigration Advice In Times Of Tight Budgets And High Caseloads, 39 Fordham Urb. L.J. (2011), co-authored with George C. Palaidis and Sarah Wood Borak

The Joy of (Public) Defending: Testimonials, Book Chapter, Careers in Criminal Justice, ABA, Edited by Ellen C. Brotman (2010)

El Modelo NorteAmericano de Defensa Publica, Book Chapter, Conozca a Estados Unidos de America, Edited by Carlos Perez and Ana Curnow (2008)

Challenging Shackling of Juveniles in Court, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, Community Oriented Defender Network Newsletter, Vol. 2, Issue 1 (July 2007)

Why are Children in Florida Treated as Enemy Combatants?, 29 NATIONAL LEGAL AID AND DEFENDER ASSOCIATION (NLADA) CORNERSTONE No.1, May/Aug. 2007

The Best Defense Is No Offense: Preventing Crime Through Effective Public Defense, 29 NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, REVIEW OF LAW & SOCIAL CHANGE 57 (2004), co-authored with Mark H. Moore, Michael P. Judge, Leonard Noisette

Representation Subcommittee Final Report (2002), The Florida Bar Commission on Legal Needs of Children, co-written as chair of the Representation Sub-committee

Defining Drug Court: The Key Components (1997), The National Association of Drug Court Standards Committee, co-written as committee member

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Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida

 

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