Sam McCann, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (



Neighborhood Defender Service celebrated its 30th anniversary last night at the Edison Ballroom in New York. The nationally recognized public defense office, which serves low-income clients in Harlem and Detroit, honored Cardi B, Honorable Rowan D. Wilson and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP for their service to NDS’ communities.

The celebration marked three decades of NDS’ work serving clients, during which time NDS has pioneered the model of client-centered, community-based, holistic public defense. Community-based means NDS offices are in the communities it works in, and its clients receive an entire team aiding their defense, including social workers, investigators, attorneys, administrators, communications support and more. The result is two-fold: public defense that secures the very best outcomes for people most vulnerable to the injustices of the legal system, and public advocacy that works to address the root of those injustices. 

Over 150 guests were in attendance at the Gala, including community leaders, advocacy partners, and former NDS clients and staff. State Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblymember Amanda Septimo were also in attendance. The legislators have worked closely with NDS to address the deadly conditions on Rikers Island. 

Beyond celebrating NDS’ work, the evening honored the key contributions of the organization’s partners. Cardi B received the Special Recognition Award for her work on the 2020 census. The award reflected her role in ensuring marginalized communities are represented in government, mirroring NDS’ own role in making sure those same communities receive representation in the courthouse.

“I want to thank Neighborhood Defender Service for this Special Recognition Award. Far too often, people who look like me or come from communities like mine in the Bronx are overlooked or forgotten about,” said Cardi B. “Being seen and counted in the Census is one of the main ways that everybody can get the resources and help they need to have a real chance at success. Making sure everyone is represented in our government at the federal, state, and local level should be a goal for all of us.”

NDS recognized Honorable Rowan Wilson, Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, with the Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his brilliance and long stewardship of NDS. Judge Wilson sat on the board of NDS for 23 years, serving as the chair for 21 years, and has spent his entire career dedicated to advancing the cause of justice.

Reflecting on his tenure, Judge Wilson said: “NDS emerged into something far greater than a demonstration project. If you were playing Password and someone said ‘crime,’ you might say ‘punishment.’ But the right answer is ‘solution.’ NDS calls it holistic [defense]. What it is really about is NDS giving its clients everything they need to find solutions.”

NDS presented Andy Lance and Peter Wardle of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP with the Corporate Social Responsibility Award, in recognition of their efforts to shepherd NDS through 30 years of growth in service to its neighbors. The award also reflected the partnership Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP forged with NDS to provide pro-bono support for NDS clients who were victims of police misconduct. 

“We are so excited to have established this relationship with NDS,” said Lance. “The heart of NDS is helping clients and communities, and to finally find that opportunity for us to be involved was incredibly satisfying and incredibly important.”

Katherine Marquart, Partner & Pro Bono Chair at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP, accepted the award on behalf of Wardle. 

NDS Executive Director and CEO Rick Jones ended the evening by remarking on NDS’ success in serving clients on multiple fronts, noting the world-class representation advocates provide clients while celebrating the work NDS is doing to change the way the legal system and policing works. 

“Our teams make sure clients are set up to not just win their case, but thrive outside the courtroom and strengthen our shared community. And then we’re taking that frontline experience to bring a much-needed measure of justice to the legal system,” Jones said. “I was here when NDS first opened its doors, and I am incredibly proud that we continue to demonstrate the power of public defense daily.”