Acting Baltimore District Public Defender Natasha M. Dartigue will become Maryland’s chief public defender July 1, succeeding the retiring Paul B. DeWolfe.
Dartigue, who has been with the public defender’s office since 1996, was appointed to the top post by the Maryland Office of the Public Defender’s board of trustees. The appointment is for a six-year term after which Dartigue can apply for reappointment.
DeWolfe has been the chief public defender since December 2009.
“I am honored to lead the Office of the Public Defender in the next chapter of its history,” Dartigue said in a statement announcing her appointment Thursday.
“Our core staff and attorneys embody the passion, dedication, expertise, and endurance required to provide superior representation for our clients,” she added. “I am committed to furthering these efforts as we continue to navigate emerging and longstanding challenges and recognize our successes. Together we will continue to create meaningful criminal justice reform.”
The career public defender said later that “I know the good, the bad and the ugly and I still love the job.”
Dartigue, 53, said her top priority will be securing greater funding to enable the agency to hire more attorneys and provide wage increases for its grossly underpaid aides. The OPD’s current annual budget is $114.9 million.
“We have support staff workers who would qualify for our services,” Dartigue said. “We need to do better.”
More money is also needed to upgrade the agency’s lagging computer technology, Dartigue said.
“Although we are mandated to exist, we haven’t gotten enough funding,” Dartigue said. “We are not asking for the fancy, we just want the basics.”
On a personal level, Dartigue said she wants to foster within OPD “a sense of community,” “a sense of family” and “a place where people are respected and valued.”
“As in any family, you have to treat your family members well,” she added.
Dartigue has served as deputy district public defender for Baltimore and was felony trial supervisor for the office. She has represented clients in the juvenile, district and circuit court divisions, according to a biography provided by the OPD.
The 1995 Howard University School of Law graduate began her career as law clerk for Baltimore City Circuit Judge Roger W. Brown.
“Ms. Dartigue has a combination of impressive qualifications, vision, and experience, and the Board is excited to have her lead this agency,” T. Wray McCurdy, chair of OPD’s 13-member board of trustees, said in a statement Thursday. “She has shown leadership ability both inside the courtroom and in the greater community.”
Dartigue, a daughter of Haitian immigrants, serves on the Maryland State Bar Association’s board of governors and on the Baltimore Bar Foundation’s board. She is a member of the Alliance of Black Women Attorneys, and is past president of the Monumental City Bar Association and past co-chair of the Bench Bar Committee of the Bar Association of Baltimore City.
Dartigue said she is “extremely proud” to be the first Black person to lead the public defender’s office.
“Representation matters,” she said. “It matters that someone who looks like me can really affect great change throughout the state.”
Since 2017, Dartigue has taught a 90-minute training course on implicit bias to new public defender employees.
“From my experience there’s definitely a level of understanding that comes from the class, a self-awareness,” Dartigue told Capital News Service in February 2021. “It will assist you in taking affirmative steps in changing your behavior.”