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Charles O’Brien will succeed Jonathan Gradess as executive director of the New York State Defenders Association when Gradess retires in August after running the Albany-based organization for 39 years.

The Defenders Association board of directors approved O’Brien’s promotion during an April 28 meeting.

Charles O’Brien

O’Brien has been with the group for more than 30 years and serves as its managing attorney. He directs its Backup Center, which serves as a source of information and resources for lawyers engaged in public criminal defense work around the state.

Edward Nowak, the president of the association’s board, said the transition to new leadership comes at a critical time. The group has been working closely with the state Office of Indigent Legal Services to effect statewide improvements in public criminal defense services as required by the state’s settlement in Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York, 8866, and by new provisions in the 2017-18 state budget.

In addition to long arguing for a statewide system of representation for indigent criminal defense, the Defenders Association has advocated for improvements in police interrogation and eyewitness identification practices as well as in standards for evidence.