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Photos by Julie Ahearn, Travis County Media Producer

Chief Defender

Adeola Ogunkeyede

Adeola Ogunkeyede

As the Chief Public Defender, Adeola Ogunkeyede directs all activities of the Public Defender’s Office. She inaugurated the role, building out the office’s holistic practice from the ground up. Ms. Ogunkeyede previously served as the inaugural director for the Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program (CRRJ) at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia. Under Ms. Ogunkeyede’s leadership, CRRJ worked 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. Prior to her work in Virginia, Ms. Ogunkeyede 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.

Directors

Caroline Solis

Caroline Solís

Director of Holistic Practice

Caroline is an Austin native. She holds a B.A. in Government from the University of Texas at Austin and a J.D. from New York University School of Law. Caroline previously worked as a Supervising Attorney at Catholic Charities, where she primarily focused on representing noncitizens who had contact with the criminal legal system before the Immigration Court and USCIS. Before that, she served as a Staff Attorney at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem in the Immigration Defense Practice, where she advised clients, family defense attorneys, and criminal defense attorneys of the consequences of criminal and family court charges, and also represented detained and non-detained noncitizens in their removal proceedings. In addition, she was a legal fellow at the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition. During law school, she interned at the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Austin, Texas, and the Department of Justice (Executive Office for Immigration Review) in Harlingen, Texas.

Jeremy Kaplan-Lyman

Jeremy Kaplan-Lyman

Legal Director

Jeremy comes to the Public Defender’s Office from The Bronx Defenders, where he spent seven years defending clients on criminal charges ranging from violations to serious felonies. While at The Bronx Defenders, he supervised teams of criminal defense attorneys of all levels of experience. He particularly enjoys working with new attorneys, whose passion for public defense inspires the continual growth of his own practice. Jeremy holds a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was a member of the Policing Innovations Clinic and the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic. Upon graduation, he clerked for the Honorable Rosemary Barkett (Ret.), then a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Prior to law school, Jeremy worked as a teacher and graduation coach and helped found the South Atlanta School for Law and Social Justice, a high-performing public school for low-income students.

Advocacy Team

Amalia Beckner

Amalia Beckner

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Amalia Beckner was born and raised in Austin. She received her B.A. in History and Political Science from the University of Chicago. She received her J.D. from UCLA School of Law in 2014, graduating from the David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. Beckner is also a graduate of the Gideon's Promise Core 101 training program and of the Trial Lawyer's College. Prior to joining the Travis County Public Defender's Office, Beckner worked for seven years at the Harris County Public Defender's Office in Houston, TX, where she was an attorney in the Felony Trial Division.

Ann Maldonado Heaps

Ann Maldonado Heaps 

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Ann Maldonado Heaps has been litigating on behalf of underserved communities since 2012. Ann has experience practicing in both state and federal court on issues related to discrimination, police brutality, consumer law, and criminal and civil rights. Prior to joining the TCPDO in August 2021, she worked with Texas Legal Services Center’s Impact Litigation Team to bring about systemic change on behalf of immigrants, individuals with disabilities, and sexual assault survivors. Ann also previously worked in the trial division of the Wisconsin State Public Defender and practiced family law and criminal defense on behalf of Spanish-speakers, immigrants, and low-income communities at a small non-profit in Milwaukee called Centro Legal. In addition to her work with the TCPDO, Ann also enjoys promoting issues related to racial justice and access to courts on the two-state bar committees on which she sits. Ann is a graduate of Vassar College, St. John’s University, and Boston College Law School, and enjoys spending time with her husband and three kids in her hometown of Austin, Texas.

Arielle Lewis-Zavala

Arielle Lewis-Zavala

Administrative Investigator

Arielle is an Austin native with a B.A. in Psychology and Gender Studies from Oberlin College. She previously worked as a private defense investigator at DLM Investigations assisting court-appointed attorneys though the Capital Area Private Defender Service. Prior to that, Arielle worked as a manager and crisis advocate at the National Domestic Violence Hotline.  

Cassandra Champion

Cassandra Champion

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Originally from Arkansas, Cassandra obtained her B.A. in Sociology from the University of Texas in 2007 and her J.D. from the University of Oregon in 2012. She moved back to Texas after law school and worked at the Texas Civil Rights Project for five years, first running a Veterans’ Rights project based in West Texas and then returning to Austin to work on the Voting Rights, Criminal Legal System Reform, and Racial and Economic Justice programs. Prior to joining the TCPDO, she worked at Disability Rights Texas for four years, first on the Institutional Rights and Civil Liberties team and then on the Housing Rights team.

Cristina Ramirez

Cristina Ramirez

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Cristina is an Austin native. She received a B.S. in Public Relations from the University of Texas at Austin and her J.D. from Boston University School of Law. While in law school, Cristina represented juvenile and adult clients as part of the Criminal Defense Clinic. She also interned at the New England Innocence Project, Dallas County Public Defender’s Office, and the Public Defender Service for D.C. After law school, Cristina served as a public defender at the Legal Aid Society in New York City. Prior to joining the Travis County Public Defender’s Office, she worked at the Dallas County Public Defender’s Office. Cristina is happy to be back home and excited to serve her fellow Austinites.

Elizabeth Garcia

Elizabeth Garcia

Legal Secretary

Elizabeth Garcia is originally from St. Louis, Missouri, and had only planned to visit Austin in 2005 while attending Summer Intensive Spanish at McCombs School of Business. By the time the class ended, she couldn’t imagine calling any other city home. She worked for the Office of the Texas Secretary of State from 2007-2020, where she assisted Texans from all over the state as they started new businesses and nonprofits and certified documents required for them to attend universities, work, get married, and even adopt children in foreign countries. She earned a paralegal certificate from University of North Texas Denton in 2018 and currently serves as chair of the Capital Area Paralegal Association’s Pro Bono and Community Services Committee. 

Effy Folberg

Ephraim “Effy” Folberg

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Effy joins the Travis County Public Defender’s Office after working as a public defender in Lexington, Kentucky. Before becoming a public defender, he clerked for the Hon. Thomas R. Wright at the 11th District Court of Appeals in Ohio. During law school, he worked for the Hon. Christine Van den Wyngaert at the International Criminal Court and the Radovan Karadžić Defense Team at the International Criminal Tribunal at the former Yugoslavia. He obtained his J.D. from Case Western Reserve University School of Law and B.A. from Michigan State University.

Eric Sundin

Eric Sundin

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Eric was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. He first lived in Austin when he attended the University of Texas, where he earned degrees in English and Radio-Television-Film. He left Austin to attend law school at the University of Houston Law Center. While at UHLC, he taught law to high school students, participated in the Juvenile Representation Clinic (where he helped licensed attorneys represent indigent kids in delinquency proceedings), and was inducted into the Order of Barristers. Upon receiving his law license, he practiced in Harris County both as a solo practitioner as well as at a nonprofit, representing indigent Harris County residents accused of felonies, misdemeanors, and in CPS proceedings. He returned to Austin to join the team at the Travis County Public Defender’s Office.

James Clark

James Clark

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

James grew up in Houston and attended the University of Texas at Austin where he majored in American Studies. After college, James co-founded a non-profit community thrift store that raises money for underfunded grassroots organizations; he also worked as a pedicab operator on 6th Street, a substitute teacher, and a research analyst. James attended Temple University’s Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia where he graduated magna cum laude. During law school he interned at the Texas Civil Rights Project, the Defender Association of Philadelphia, the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender, and the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. After law school he joined the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender. James later returned to Austin to open his own private criminal defense practice before joining the team at the TCPDO.

Janel Venzant

Janel Venzant

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Originally from Maryland, Janel made her way to Houston, Texas before finally landing in Austin. Janel holds a B.S. in Sport Management and a J.D., both from the University of Texas at Austin. Previously, Janel worked at the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Texas, where she litigated civil claims brought under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, and several federal and state statutes. Janel is excited to be a member of the Travis County Public Defender team and is particularly looking forward to collaborating with and learning from her brilliant colleagues.

Juanita Garcia

Juanita Garcia

Paralegal

Prior to joining the Travis County Public Defender’s Office, Juanita García was a Mithoff Pro Bono Program Intern for the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law at the University of Texas School of Law, where she advocated for clients through the Texas Law Expunction Project. Previously, Juanita gained extensive experience in the political and advocacy sphere as a community organizer for James Talarico for State Representative, Wendy Davis for Congress, MOVE Texas, KERA, and the Office of U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett. She received her Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.

Kayla Bennett

Kayla Bennett

Social Worker

Kayla holds a BA in Sociology from Wesleyan University and an MSW from the University of Chicago. Kayla was trained in the neuroscience and treatment of post-traumatic stress at NYC's Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. She has previously worked as a Horticultural Therapist on Rikers Island, where she and her students designed, built, and maintained gardens while studying curriculum in gardening, botany, food justice, and landscape design. Prior to this, Kayla worked as a Criminal Defense Social Worker at the Bronx Defenders. In 2019 she started her own mitigation practice to assist federal defense attorneys advocate for better sentencing outcomes for their clients. Kayla is an Austin native and is honored to join the Travis County Public Defender's Office.

Leonor Delgado

Leonor Delgado

Administrative Investigator

Leonor Delgado is originally from El Paso, Texas. She began her legal career in Las Cruces, New Mexico, first as a legal secretary and later as a nationally certified paralegal. After moonlighting with a local private investigation firm, Leonor obtained her Private Investigator license, opened her own office and began her career as a defense investigator for indigent clients with emphasis on Federal Criminal Justice Panel cases. In addition to later being employed by the Federal Public Defender in El Paso (Western District of Texas), she has been a fact investigator on several death eligible cases in New Mexico and Texas, with extensive investigation experience in various parts of the United States and Mexico.

Luis Ortiz

Luis Ortiz

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Luis is from Panama and grew up in Massachusetts. Luis earned his JD from the University of Texas School of Law. During law school he defended clients in criminal proceedings in Travis County, migrants in federal deportation proceedings, and successfully advocated to end a debtor’s prison policy in central Texas. He also led student pro bono projects focused on deportation defense and fighting against migrant detention. Before joining the TCPDO, Luis began his career at Brooklyn Defender Services, defending his clients facing charges ranging from non-criminal violations to violent felonies. Luis is a native Spanish speaker.

Melissa Lebet

Melissa Lebet

Social Worker

Melissa grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and earned her Master's in Social Work from UT Austin in 2020. Prior to joining the Public Defender's Office, she worked as a social worker with individuals experiencing homelessness and co-occurring disorders. She has an interest in the trauma treatment modalities, strengths-based therapy, and harm reduction.

Melissa Reyes

Melissa Reyes

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Melissa is from the small town of Clint, Texas. She received her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Texas State University. After working in the Austin area for a few years, she received her J.D. with a concentration in Criminal Law & Innocence from Texas Tech University School of Law.  During law school, she was a student-attorney with the Caprock Regional Public Defender’s Office and is currently a member of the Future Indigent Defense Leaders project and Gideon’s Promise. Upon receiving her law license, Melissa was in private practice primarily practicing criminal defense in the Hill Country before joining the Travis County Public Defender’s Office.

Michael Villanueva

Michael Villanueva

Legal Secretary

Michael earned a B.S. in Criminal Justice with a minor in Accounting from Sam Houston State University in 2021. During his time at SHSU he worked alongside diverse administrators, faculty, and students dedicated to advancing their community and creating an inclusive environment. With experience connecting individuals to resources such as financial aid, counseling, and other social programs, he is determined to aid underrepresented communities. This aspiration to assist underprivileged groups has led him to the Public Defender’s Office. He is passionate about contributing to the office’s righteous goal of advocating for the indigent community of Travis County accused of criminal offenses. He hopes to support his fellow legal advocates by providing exceptional and holistic representation to clients using the skills and tools he acquired during his undergraduate career and life experiences.

Morgan Shelburne

Morgan Shelburne

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Morgan Shelburne was born and raised in Southwest Houston. She returned to Texas after working for the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender in the San Luis Valley. In Colorado, Morgan gained experience fighting a wide range of cases, from bond hearing to jury trial. Morgan received her law degree from the University of Texas School of Law where she participated in the Criminal Defense Clinic and the Capital Punishment Clinic. At UT, Morgan also helped organize pro bono projects to expunge criminal records and to change legal names and gender markers for members of our trans community. Morgan is honored to be able to work in Texas as a public defender.

Nabil Valencia

Nabil Valencia

Administrative Investigator

Nabil comes with both investigative and nonprofit experience. Her grassroots organizing and community building experience has led her to work in spaces such as the Connecticut Probate Courts, The Texas Civil Rights Project and the Forensic Project. As a post-conviction investigator, she has traveled throughout Texas working on cases where convictions resulted from unreliable DNA evidence held at the Austin Police Department’s crime lab before it was shut down in 2015. Nabil received her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Connecticut and later obtained her MSc in Latin American Development from King’s College London. She has served on the boards for several community organizations and commissions and continues to be involved in the community in different capacities. Nabil is fluent in Spanish.

Nadege Joseph

Nadege Joseph

Social Worker

Nadege was born in Dominica and raised in the Virgin Islands. She received her Bachelor's Degree in both Social Work and Spanish in 2019 from Seton Hill University. Nadege then received her Master's of Social Work from Baylor University in August 2021. Nadege has previously interned with community organizations working with the chronically unhoused.

Rhiannon Hamam

Ryan O'Dell

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Ryan O’Dell brings a wealth of experience as a public defender to TCPDO. Ryan has zealously advocated for clients on matters ranging from low level misdemeanors to the most serious felonies in New York, and California, and Texas. Ryan graduated from New York University School of Law 2007, where he worked in the Capital Defense Clinic with Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative, and also interned with the Innocence Project in New York and the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina. Since graduating, Ryan has accumulated years of experience effectively representing clients as a trial attorney at the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, The Bronx Defenders, and the Manhattan Trial Office of The Legal Aid Society. Ryan has also defended men and women on death row in Texas in their capital habeas proceedings during his time as an attorney at the Office of Capital Writs here in Austin. During a reprieve from practicing criminal defense, Ryan spent several years working as an immigration attorney, helping international artists and creatives obtain legal status in the United States and defending individuals in removal proceedings. Throughout, Ryan has maintained a fiercely client-centered practice that he now is honored to offer the residents of Austin and Travis County. .

Scott Constantine

Scott Constantine

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Scott joined the Public Defender’s Office in July 2021 after three years representing kids with the Travis County Juvenile Public Defender’s Office. Before moving to Austin in 2017, Scott spent almost twenty years as a public defender in New York City - representing adults in the criminal system and parents facing abuse/neglect charges. He started his career in the Criminal Defense Division of the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan, then spent the next several years at The Bronx Defenders, a nationally recognized, holistic public defender office. At The Bronx Defenders, Scott held many roles including Supervising Attorney, Team Leader, and for five years, Managing Director of the Family Defense Practice. He is a graduate of Northeastern School of Law, and a former adjunct professor at both University of Texas and Seton Hall Law Schools.

Seth Manetta-Dillon

Seth Manetta-Dillon

Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Seth joins the Travis County Public Defender’s Office after spending two years as a private criminal defense attorney in Austin, where he represented individuals charged with offenses ranging from Class C traffic tickets to Capital Murder. Before returning to Austin, Seth spent two years at The Defender Association of Philadelphia, where he defended people charged with crimes ranging from low level misdemeanors to serious felonies. Seth holds a J.D. from The University of Texas School of Law, a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education from Arizona State University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Bucknell University. Prior to law school, Seth taught middle school and high school science for 6 years, 4 of which were in Austin, TX. His goal is to provide high-quality holistic representation to the people of Travis County and to help establish the Travis County Public Defender’s Office as a national leader in holistic defense.

Shaneal Harun

Shaneal Harun

Paralegal

Shaneal is a UT Austin graduate with a background in research and community organizing. They double-majored in Government and African & African Diaspora Studies. Prior to joining the Travis County Public Defender's Office, Shaneal worked as a legal assistant for a small criminal defense firm in Austin, TX. They previously worked as an intern in the Democracy & Clean Energy program with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, where they engaged with local climate justice coalitions and produced research on the intersections of power, inequality, and environmental politics in Texas. In 2019 they interned with Grassroots Leadership, assisting with research to support advocacy for transformative indigent defense in Travis County. Prior to this, they have had a wide range of experience in organizing and legal-adjacent work in movements, which informs their approach to holistic defense and their work with the Public Defender's Office.

Yareli Olvera

Yareli Olvera

Legal Secretary

Yareli was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley and graduated with a B.A in Criminal Justice from Arcadia University in 2017. She is passionate about working alongside attorneys that are dedicated to advocate on their client’s behalf to protect their rights. Her experiences in both Criminal and Immigration Law have given her deep knowledge and valuable experience to dedicate her life and resources to bringing justice to indigent communities. She is honored to be a part of the first Public Defender’s Office in Travis County and hopes to contribute to the office by providing her team with the resources required to deliver great representation to their clients.

Administrative Staff

Joshua Lane

Joshua Lane

Financial Analyst

Joshua Lane has over five years of experience in data, reporting, and financial analytics. Early in his career, he worked in utilities contracting as a data and reporting analyst with companies like PG&E where he prepared and presented project, reporting, and financial data. For the Public Defender’s Office, Joshua performs financial analysis and prepares budget reports by reviewing recent and historical financial information. He also prepares, processes and maintains all financial transactions and documents for departmental activities such as financial reporting, grant administration, and purchasing. Joshua holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Georgia State University.

Melissa Elfont

Melissa Elfont

Office Manager

Melissa Elfont was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She joins the Travis County Public Defender’s Office after spending four years at the Texas Civil Rights Project, where she managed operations across five regional offices. She previously worked as a higher education administrator at The University of Texas at Austin, Drexel University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Melissa received her B.A. in Sociology and Gender Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. As the Office Manager, Melissa provides day-to-day management over the administrative and operational functions of the office, ensuring that it runs in an organized and efficient manner to meet the needs of the PDO’s clients and client communities.

TAX RATE: TRAVIS COUNTY ADOPTED A TAX RATE THAT WILL RAISE MORE TAXES FOR MAINTENANCE AND OPERATIONS THAN LAST YEAR'S TAX RATE. THE TAX RATE WILL EFFECTIVELY BE RAISED BY 3.6 PERCENT AND WILL RAISE TAXES FOR MAINTENANCE AND OPERATIONS ON A $100,000 HOME BY APPROXIMATELY $11.00.

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