Alumnus, Nevada Supreme Court Justice Cherry Receives Champion of Indigent Defense Award

Nevada Supreme Court Justice Michael Cherry, JD ’69, has received the 2011 Champion of Indigent Defense Award from the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). This is the first time a judge has received the award since it was established in 2002. 

Justice Cherry chairs the Nevada Supreme Court’s Indigent Defense Commission, which has been examining how Nevada’s justice system treats criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire their own attorneys. 

NACDL president Lisa Wayne cited Justice Cherry’s “long and persistent dedication” to improving indigent defense systems in the State of Nevada, including his role as chairman of the Indigent Defense Commission. She praised his efforts as “examples of how members of the judiciary can help effect meaningful reform of our criminal justice system.” 

Justice Cherry has practiced law in Nevada since 1970, beginning as a deputy public defender before going into private practice. In 1997, he was appointed to lead the newly created Special Public Defender Office in Clark County, which primarily handled death penalty cases. In 1998, he was elected a district court judge and then elected to the Supreme Court in 2006. 

As part of its work, the Indigent Defense Commission recommended performance standards for criminal defense attorneys. Those standards, approved by the Supreme Court in 2009, specify that attorneys take certain steps in handling cases of indigent defendants, including having regular contact with their clients and conducting comprehensive investigations of the allegations. The Indigent Defense Commission also studied whether caseload limits should be set for public defenders in Nevada. Additionally, the commission’s Rural Sub-committee issued a report making several recommendations to improve the delivery of defense services across the state.