Heller and McCarley are among 14 law graduates included in the 2019 class of fellows announced by Gideon’s Promise, a nonprofit organization that provides intensive training for public defense professionals to improve the quality of legal representation they provide from the start of their legal careers. Gideon’s Promise Fellows are assigned to public defenders’ offices in communities throughout the nation where more public defenders are needed to serve indigent clients.
Heller will join the Hamilton County Public Defender in Cincinnati, Ohio. Heller, who grew up near Flint, Michigan, says the economic struggles of the city motivated him to pursue personalized justice as a lawyer. “Growing up, I became aware that wealth and race play a disproportionate role in determining peoples’ lives,” he said. “I spent a substantial portion of my time as a high school and undergraduate student trying to figure how I could combat that unfairness.”
Heller earned his undergraduate degree in political science and economics cum laude at Central Michigan University. During law school, he interned for the Federal Defender’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan and for Judge Laurie J. Michelson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. He also participated in Vanderbilt’s Advanced Criminal Law Clinic, through which students provide holistic representation of indigent defendants under the supervision of Associate Dean Susan Kay. Heller was the student-writing editor for the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law and an associate problem editor on the Moot Court Board.
“I want to join the Gideon’s Promise community because I want to help reform the indigent defense system in a way that limits the larger problem of mass incarceration, while allowing me to serve individual clients,” Heller said.
A native of Santa Clara, California, McCarley will be joining the Nashville Defenders after graduation. McCarley worked with the Nashville Defenders both summers during law school. She decided to pursue permanent employment as a public defender after her first summer working with the Nashville Defenders, after one of her colleagues there “told me that being a public defender is waking up every morning and making an affirmative decision to see the best in people,” she said. “Public defenders are on the frontlines of justice and have the power to make a change within the criminal justice system.”
McCarley earned her undergraduate degree in political science summa cum laude at Fisk University in Nashville. She has a background in education, community affairs and education, working with low-income families. “Gideon’s Promise has excellent training resources that unite public defense communities across the nation,” she said. “I think that a goal that unifies the indigent defense community and that is disseminated by Gideon’s fellows through different offices nationwide is an integral part of the movement to change public defense.”
Gideon’s Promise places a new class of fellows from partner law schools each year in public defenders’ offices nationwide. Fellows gain access to the organization’s three-year Core 101 training program, which includes intensive mentoring and leadership development.