About Us

The Rhode Island Public Defender is a firm of lawyers who defend adults and juveniles accused of committing crimes, and represent parents who are threatened with loss of custody of their children because of neglect or abuse allegations. Supported by professional social workers, investigators and interpreters, we represent clients in state court proceedings from the first appearance before a judge through trial or hearing, as well as through appeal if necessary.

Mission Statement

Our goal is to provide client-centered advice, holistic representation and zealous advocacy with support from our team of advocates, social workers, investigators, interpreters and other staff. Our commitment is to treat our clients with dignity, compassion and fairness.

History and Background

Since 1842, the Rhode Island Constitution has guaranteed the right to counsel in state criminal prosecutions and in 1963 the United States Constitution's similar guarantee was applied to the states. Rhode Island has chosen to fulfill its responsibility to provide counsel to indigent defendants primarily through lawyers employed by a single agency, the Rhode Island Public Defender. The Rhode Island Public Defender was created in 1941 when the Rhode Island General Assembly passed P.L. 1941, ch. 1007. It is believed to be the first statewide full service public defender office established in the United States. All RIPD attorneys are admitted to practice in the Rhode Island Bar. They work full time for the RIPD, have no private practices, and do not charge fees to clients for their services. On those occasions when the RIPD cannot represent a client, a private attorney who has met certain qualifications set by the judiciary will be appointed at the state's expense; in parental rights cases, a lawyer from Rhode Island Legal Services is often appointed. Many RIPD attorneys are career defenders. Turnover is low and attorneys generally have many years of experience in the same specialty.

Hall of Fame

  • Paul E. Kelly
    Assistant Public Defender, Inducted March 2, 1984
  • Leo Patrick McGowan
    Public Defender, Inducted September 14, 1984
  • James Cardono
    Public Defender, Inducted September 28, 1984
  • William F. Reilly
    Public Defender, Inducted May 18, 1990
  • Benjamin Cianciarulo
    Public Defender, Inducted May 2, 1996
  • Allegra E. Munson
    Assiant Public Defender, Inducted May 2, 1996
  • David L. Martin
    Assiant Public Defender, Inducted May 2, 1996
  • Aram A. Arabian
    Public Defender, Inducted May 2, 1996
  • Victoria A. Catalano
    Legal Secretary, Inducted May 2, 1996
  • Richard M. Casparian
    Public Defender, Inducted May 18, 2001
  • Sonia A. Aguirre
    Spanish Interpreter, Inducted November 20, 2002
  • Lise J. Gescheidt
    Assiant Public Defender, Inducted November 20, 2002
  • Mary E. Levesque
    Assiant Public Defender, Inducted November 20, 2002
  • John J. Hardiman
    Public Defender, Inducted June 19, 2014