Healthy New Jersey

Office of the Public Defender

NJOPD Announces Director of People and Culture to Lead Comprehensive Employee-Related Initiatives


New Jersey Office of the Public Defender
– Jennifer N. Sellitti, Public Defender


Cristina LiBassi, Director of Communications

TRENTON – April 23, 2024 – The New Jersey Office of the Public Defender (NJOPD) today announced it has named Lauren Michaels as its first-ever Director of People and Culture, effective April 22, 2024. Michaels is a long-time employee of the NJOPD and will leverage her deep understanding of the office’s processes and systems to continue supporting the evolving needs of its staff. She will be based in the Trenton headquarters and report to Public Defender Jennifer Sellitti.

“People remain the focus of everything we do here at the NJOPD, whether we’re ensuring New Jerseyans’ constitutional rights are being upheld or maintaining a culture where employees feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work each day,” said Public Defender Sellitti. “Lauren’s promotion to Director of People and Culture underscores our commitment to prioritizing these efforts, and we’re thrilled to have her as part of our management team.”

Playing into NJOPD’s push toward a more collaborative and holistic model, Michaels will align various employment divisions—including Human Resources; Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO); and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion—and spearhead a comprehensive approach to the way the office hires and supports staff. She will create and implement innovative employee-related initiatives ranging from recruitment and internships to employee experience, engagement, and work culture.

“We represent people facing very difficult situations—for many, among the worst situations of their lives. Having worked at the NJOPD for over a decade, I have seen first-hand how dedicated our employees are to zealously and compassionately advocating for and helping our clients,” said Michaels. “I’m eager to continue supporting my colleagues and build on the office’s robust strategy to attract and retain a diverse pool of talent that is passionate about the work we do.”

Michaels started her career at NJOPD as a staff attorney in the Appellate Section. She successfully litigated many cases in the Supreme Court on issues such as eyewitness identification, search and seizure, keeping pseudoscience out of the courtroom, the right to possess weapons in one’s home for self-defense, and the right to counsel of choice. Michaels has also represented numerous clients in the Appellate Division and on remand to the Law Division. Within the Appellate office, she has been a frequent mentor to new attorneys and its Training Coordinator.

Additionally, Michaels previously served as Counsel to the Public Defender and NJOPD’s EEO/Affirmative Action Officer. She created and implemented training programs on preventing sexual harassment and discrimination, and the relevant state and NJOPD policies; counseled staff and management on EEO issues; and investigated EEO complaints. She also coordinated NJOPD’s internship program and represented the agency in a variety of matters, including co-litigating constitutional challenges to remotely incarcerate our clients.

Before joining NJOPD, Michaels clerked for Justice Virginia A. Long of the New Jersey Supreme Court, and represented children and their caregivers as an Equal Justice Works Fellow and staff attorney at the Education Law Center. She received her J.D. from Harvard Law School magna cum laude, and her B.A. from Rutgers College with highest honors. She is also a proud former NJOPD Office of Law Guardian intern.


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