Trials & Litigation

Top federal defender is representing accused Boston Marathon bomber


Being unable to afford an attorney, ironically, has helped the surviving suspect in last week’s Boston Marathon bombings get one of the country’s top federal defenders assigned to his case.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, will be represented by Miriam Conrad, who is in charge of the Federal Public Defender Office in Boston and is one of the most seasoned and well-regarded lawyers doing such work in the country, ABC News reports.

Conrad, a graduate of Harvard Law School, has represented a number of accused terrorists. Also highly regarded is another member of the team, William Fick, a graduate of Yale Law School.

A federal public defender for over two decades, Conrad took the helm in 2005 at the Federal Public Defender Office for the Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Among those she has represented in the past are “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and Rezwan Ferdaus, who got 17 years last year for plotting to use remote-controlled model planes carrying explosives to attack the Capitol and the Pentagon.

Tamar R. Birckhead, who formerly worked in Conrad’s office and is now a law professor at the University of North Carolina, said the federal public defender loves what she does and is a tough contender, reports the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (sub. req.).

“She does not suffer fools. She will provide the most rigorous dedicated defense humanly possible,” Birckhead told the newspaper, adding: “[T]here is something quite powerful about being the only person in the courtroom who is the voice of the individual that everyone else hates.”

Earlier, a potential problem for the defense team was the furloughs that had been ordered for public defender offices throughout the country as a result of federal budget cuts known as sequester or sequestration, the National Law Journal (sub. req.) reported.

“There’s no doubt that the sequester is going to affect the administration of justice in general, in Boston, and with this case specifically,” said John Cunha Jr. The Cunha & Holcomb partner is a past president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

But questions about whether the case could be slowed down if the lawyers representing him are required to take time off were eliminated when planned furloughs affecting the Department of Justice were rescinded. The Federal Eye page of the Washington Post gives details.

Also see:

ABAJournal.com: “Bombing suspect charged at bedside, to be tried in civilian courts”

ABAJournal.com: “Appeals judge warns Congress of ‘unsustainable’ impact of court budget cuts”

Above the Law: “The Lawyers Representing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev”

Updated on April 25 to include additional information about Conrad’s background and news that furloughs have been eliminated.

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