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Past Public Defenders


Stanley C.Van Ness

The position of Public Defender in New Jersey has been held by some of the most respected names in the state's legal community. The first Public Defender was Peter Murray, whose untimely death in 1969 led to the appointment of Stanley C. Van Ness by then-Gov. Richard Hughes. Mr. Van Ness, who had been the governor's counsel and was active in national efforts to reform court procedures, also became the state's first Public Advocate when that agency was created in 1974. Mr. Van Ness is widely regarded as the architect of the office as it exists today.

Following his tenure with state government as the Public Advocate and the Public Defender, he was a partner in the Princeton law firm of Herbert, Van Ness, Cayci and Goodell. Mr. Van Ness was presented the "Defender of Justice" award by the National Conference for Community and Justice. Mr. Van Ness passed away in 2007 at the age of 73.



In 1982, Mr. Van Ness was succeeded in both the Public Defender and Public Advocate positions by Joseph H. Rodriguez, a prominent trial attorney and former chairman of the State Commission on Investigation and the Board of Higher Education. Mr. Rodriguez later ascended to the position of U.S. District Judge in 1985. In 1999, he was the recipient of both the "Medal of Honor Award" from the New Jersey State Bar Foundation and the "William J. Brennan Jr. Award" from the Association of Federal Bar of the State of New Jersey

Joseph H. Rodriguez

Alfred A. Slocum

Judge Rodriguez was succeeded by Alfred A. Slocum, a professor of law at Rutgers University and a noted civil rights leader. Mr. Slocum was recognized for his work toward creating a more fair and equitable justice system for the poor.


In 1990, then-Gov. Jim Florio named Wilfredo Caraballo, an associate dean and professor at Seton Hall Law School, to the dual post of Public Defender/Public Advocate. Mr. Caraballo became a well-known member of the state Assembly, where he represented the 29th District, covering parts of Essex and Union counties. He continues to speak out about issues that concerned him as Public Defender and Public Advocate.

Wilfredo Caraballo

Zulima Farber

After Mr. Caraballo, Gov. Florio appointed Zulima V. Farber, who became the first woman to serve as both Public Advocate and Public Defender. She became known as an outspoken critic of mandatory sentences and high bails, maintaining that they contributed to unnecessary prison overcrowding. Ms. Farber has since returned to the Roseland law firm of Lowenstein Sandler. In 1999, she was presented the "Barbara Boggs Sigmund Award" by the Women's Political Caucus of New Jersey.


In early 1994, then-Gov. Christie Whitman appointed Susan L. Reisner to the post of Public Defender. Ms. Reisner served as Acting Public Advocate while that department was being phased out after the legislative action to realign the agencies that year. She is now a Superior Court judge serving in the Chancery Division in Passaic County.

Susan L. Reisner

Ivelisse Torres

In 1997, Gov. Whitman appointed Ivelisse Torres as Public Defender. At the time of her nomination, she was the Deputy Public Defender in charge of the Ocean County regional office. She was the first career public defender to rise to the agency's top post, having started her career as an assistant deputy in the Camden County region and holding that position in the Union County region as well. Ms. Torres passed away while in office in November 2000.


Yvonne Smith Segars, a veteran of the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender since 1985, was sworn into office as New Jersey Public Defender on September 25, 2002. She was nominated to the post while serving as First Assistant Deputy in the agency's Essex Adult Regional Office, the largest region in the agency.

Yvonne Smith Segars Yvonne Smith Segars

Acting Public Defenders

Amy R. Piro served as Acting Public Defender between Judge Ropdriguez' departure and the appointment of Mr. Slocum. While previously serving in then-Gov. Thomas Kean's administration, Ms. Piro played a key role in legislation aimed at pay equity for women in state government, as well as the prevention of domestic violence.

Amy R. Piro

Thomas S. Smith Jr

Thomas S. Smith Jr. served as Acting Public Defender and Public Advocate before Mr. Caraballo's appointment. He later was appointed to a Superior Court judgeship in Burlington County and has retired.


David Ben-Asher

David Ben-Asher served as acting Public Defender during the time between the Caraballo and Farber administrations.


Peter A. Garcia was appointed Acting Public Defender after Ms. Torres' death in 2000. He previously had served as an assistant public defender and chief counsel for the agency.

Peter A. Garcia