Christina Swarns

Christina Swarns, a capital defense lawyer and litigation director for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, has been chosen to lead the Office of the Appellate Defender in New York.

She will begin Aug. 28 as attorney-in-charge, succeeding Richard Greenberg, who retired after more than 20 years.

Swarns is one of only a handful of black women to have argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, the OAD said Monday in announcing her appointment. In the 2016-2017 Supreme Court term, Swarns argued and won Buck v. Davis, a Texas death penalty case challenging the introduction of explicitly racially biased evidence at trial, the OAD said.

OAD board chairman Sean Hecker, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, said Swarns’ “unrivaled reputation in the indigent defense community, her passionate and life-long commitment to criminal justice, and her years of experience in supervising intelligent, creative and dedicated lawyers make her the perfect fit” to lead the organization founded in 1988.

Swards, raised in Staten Island, began as a Legal Aid Society staff attorney in New York. She worked in Philadelphia’s Federal Community Defender Office and for 14 years at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, including the last three as litigation director.

Swarns, who received her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, speaks and writes regularly on issues concerning race, law and criminal justice.

“I firmly believe that the American criminal justice system must be administered … without regard to racial, social or economic status, so that all communities receive fair and appropriate police protection and all individuals charged … are afforded the full range of safeguards guaranteed by the Constitution,” she saidin a statement from the OAD.