Three local public defenders were honored recently at the 10th Annual Arizona Public Defender Association Conference in Tempe.

Pima County Public Defender Lori Lefferts said  Sheena Chawla, Michael Mussman and Margo Cowan were all very deserving of their awards.

I'd heard about the awards and asked her to send me some more info.

Here's what she had to say: 

Michael Mussman was this year's recipient of of the Lifetime Achievement Award. This award recognizes a member of a Public Defender office or program who has dedicated his or her career to indigent representation and has unfailingly exemplified the core values of indigent representation: high quality representation, equal justice, and recognition of the humanity and dignity of indigent individuals.

Mike is approaching his 30-year mark in indigent defense in Pima County. He started his career with the Public Defender, then in 1987 he was named Director of the newly created Legal Defender's Office, where he served for five years. He returned to the courtroom, rejoining the Public Defender's Office in 1995.  Mike is a senior attorney in the office, carrying one the heaviest caseloads, of some of the most difficult cases. Despite his heavy load, he always takes the time to help less experienced lawyers who turn to him for guidance. His life-time dedication to helping the indigent population makes him a true champion for justice, and well deserving of this award.

 Margo Cowan received the Outstanding Performance Award, which recognizes performance and contribution from a member of a Public Defender Office who has demonstrated exceptional dedication, done outstanding work or made a significant impact for our clients. Margo received this award for her tireless commitment to her clients, particular those who are foreign-born. In Padilla v. Kentucky, the United States Supreme Court held that all non-citizens are entitled to advice regarding the immigration consequences of a guilty plea. While this case was a game-changer for many criminal law practitioners, it was business as usual for Margo. She has been providing this advice for years, and advocating for case resolutions that permit lawful residents of Arizona to keep their families intact and remain in Arizona.  


Sheena Chawla was presented with the “Rising Star” Award, , which recognizes an attorney with less than five years of experience who has demonstrated skills and dedication and achieved accomplishments beyond his or her experience level. Sheena, like all Pima County Public Defender lawyers, is hard-working, intelligent and dedicated. However, she has distinguished herself as exceptional by taking on tough cases, and obtaining extraordinary results. She recently worked tirelessly to defend a young woman charged with first degree murder, the trial resulting a hung jury. Prior to that, Sheena tried eight felony trial, obtaining outright acquittals in six.  

Lefferts mentioned a trial that ended in a hung jury. She was talking about the Denise Pesqueira case.