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Avis E. Buchanan Honored With Thurgood Marshall Award

March 17, 2016

Avis BuchananAvis E. Buchanan, director of the Public Defender Service (PDS) for the District of Columbia, has been honored with the D.C. Bar's 2016 Thurgood Marshall Award for her exceptional commitment to pursuing equal justice for all Americans. Buchanan will take home the award on June 15 at the Bar's Celebration of Leadership.

Buchanan joined PDS in 1982 as a staff attorney, working criminal defense cases during the peak of the District's crack epidemic. After nearly seven years at PDS, she left for the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, most recently serving as its director of litigation until she returned to PDS in 2002.

In describing why Buchanan is deserving of the award, Julia Leighton, general counsel for PDS, wrote, "Avis is an extraordinary human being, who possesses a brilliant mind, kind heart, and regal presence, and who has dedicated her life and career to defending the civil rights of the disadvantaged and championing equal justice for all."

Buchanan has helped PDS remain the model for other public defender organizations, increasing its programming to improve the quality of legal representation, better address client needs, and institute exoneration and system reforms. Her commitment to equal justice was clear when she accepted the Washington Council of Lawyers' Presidents' Award for Public Service. "We give people a fighting chance, just as rich people have . . . We are helping people at a very crucial time in their lives," Buchanan said.

In addition to the Presidents' Award, Buchanan has been honored with the Wiley A. Branton Award presented by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Edwin D. Wolf Award presented by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She also has been recognized as one of Washington's most powerful women by the Washingtonian.

Added Leighton, "She embodies every aspect of [the Marshall Award's] purpose—she has made exceptional achievements in the pursuit of equal justice in the areas of civil rights, individual liberties, and the public interest and has made a significant, positive impact on the quality and administration of justice."

The D.C. Bar established the Marshall Award in 1993 to recognize individuals who embody the ideals of legal legend Justice Thurgood Marshall, relentlessly pursuing equal justice and opportunity for all Americans. It is presented biennially and alternates with the presentation of the William J. Brennan Jr. Award.