Compassionate and Innovative Criminal Defense

Our employees are a visible force in our community, our courtrooms, and in local classrooms. Julianne M. Holt leads the office by example, guiding more than two hundred attorneys and legal support personnel as they provide quality legal representation to those who cannot afford private counsel. Ms. Holt sought election to the Office of the Public Defender in 1992 with the goal of making a positive change for the indigent people in Hillsborough County. For over twenty-four years, attorneys in the Public Defender’s Office have worked tirelessly to ensure the term “public defender” is synonymous with quality criminal defense representation and public service. She has emphasized the office’s position as the largest criminal defense firm in Hillsborough County by focusing her entire organization on professionalism, leadership, and service.

Case Specialists and Aftercare

While legal troubles are the basis for individuals becoming Public Defender clients, larger social issues are often the root cause. Many times, attorneys cannot begin to delve into their clients' legal matters without first addressing the myriad of social issues they face including homelessness, mental health problems, drug and/or alcohol abuse and medical crises. As a result, Ms. Holt established a Social Services Department in 1994 to address the underlying social issues her clients face. Over time, this department has developed into a forensic disposition and mitigation unit with specialists who aid attorneys and the court in developing alternatives to incarceration and locating appropriate treatment and assistance for clients with problems that directly or indirectly contribute to their criminal behavior.

Our commitment to indigent defense recognizes the need to go beyond legal representation of clients from arraignment through sentencing. Ms. Holt’s philosophy and vision fostered the development of a unique program directed toward assisting indigent clients to become self-sufficient, productive members of our community. The Aftercare program is designed to assist clients in complying with court-ordered sanctions (like probation) with the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism – or re-entry into the criminal justice system. Through extended contact with clients and probation officers, staff can identify and contend with problems before they develop, to help avoid serious legal consequences. Clients are counseled and supplied with information regarding housing, medical care, mental health services, and employment opportunities available throughout Tampa Bay. In addition, clients receive assistance in obtaining basic needs such as food, c1othing, and transportation.

Forensic Behavioral Intervention Unit

The Forensic Behavioral Health and Intervention Unit was created in recognition of the need for a proactive approach to representing clients with mental health and development issues. The unit implements strategies that focus on preventing individuals from unnecessarily entering the justice system to begin with, and responding quickly and effectively to individuals who do become involved in the justice system to link them to appropriate community-based services.

The mission of the unit is to proactively find and address mental health and cognitive development issues in felony, misdemeanor, juvenile, and civil cases. Attorneys and support staff in the unit are responsible for guiding our progress in behavioral health awareness in representation through litigation, training, and case conferencing.

Attorneys in the Forensic Behavioral Health and Intervention Unit are involved in the earliest stages of the case, ensuring assessments and recommendations are completed before the client is arraigned. They assist attorneys with developing beneficial evidence to support advocacy for diversion, expedited competency evaluations, mitigation for sentencing, and preliminary case investigations for clients with mental health issues. The initial assessment is followed up with appropriate referrals to disposition specialists and investigators for use by the attorney of record.

The Forensic Behavioral Health and Intervention Unit was also successful in working with the treatment and crisis centers and the State Attorney's Office, taking steps to decriminalize mental illness by making diversion programs available when appropriate to keep individuals out of the criminal justice system and link them with much-needed treatment.

The Pepin Academies, Inc.

The Pepin Transitional program of The Pepin Academies, Inc. was designed to provide a comprehensive, individualized program of vocationally-based training in coordination with life and job readiness classes for adult students 18-22 with identified learning or learning related disabilities. Student schedules consist of on job-site training, as well as, an academic course load. Students attend classes such as employability skills, independent living, cash register training, business technology, life-skills reading and life-skills math. Pepin Transitional has partnered with several local businesses that allow our students to train on-site. The Hillsborough County Public Defender's Office is a proud business partner with The Pepin Academies, Inc. and is a host site for The Pepin Transitional school.

For more information, please visit their website at:

Press Release 1/24/2012 - Downtown Partnerships