Executive Office

The Executive Office strives to provide the vision, guidance, and support required to manage the day-to-day and long-term needs of PDS’s clients, its dedicated staff, and the organization. Functions include strategic planning, legal counsel, legislative guidance, policies and procedures, external committee representation, mentoring, and communications and marketing.

Director of PDSAvis E. Buchanan


As the director of PDS, Avis E. Buchanan provides defense and related legal and non-legal services to people charged with crimes in the local District of Columbia courts who cannot afford to hire an attorney.

After graduating from Michigan State University and Harvard Law School, Ms. Buchanan worked as a law clerk for the late Honorable Theodore J. McMillian of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. In 1982, Ms. Buchanan joined PDS as a staff attorney, doing criminal defense work for six and a half years. For the next 13 years, Ms. Buchanan served as staff attorney, director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Project, and then director of Litigation at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, where she was primarily responsible for litigating individual and class action employment and public accommodations cases in various federal and local courts.  Ms. Buchanan rejoined PDS in 2002 as its deputy director, and was selected to serve as PDS’s director in 2004.

Positions held at PDS:
Director (2004-Present)
Deputy Director (2002-2004)
Staff Attorney, Trial Division (1982-1989)
Intern Investigator (Summer 1979)

2020 Servant Justice Award
2018 Celebration of Service Award
2016 Thurgood Marshall Award
2014 Presidents’ Award for Public Service
2012 Wiley A. Branton Award
1998 Edwin D. Wolf Award

Articles about Avis:
"Why DC’s Public Defender Service Is Among the Country’s Best: An interview with Avis Buchanan, who runs the agency," Washingtonian, March 2020
“Most Powerful Women: More Than 100 of the Region’s Most Influential Women in Business, Law, Government, Education, Media, Nonprofits, and the Arts,” Washingtonian, November 2015
"Cool Yet Determined: Avis Buchanan is Steady Force at Public Defender Service,"
The National Law Journal, August 15, 2011
"The Intersection of Work and Faith," Spectrum, January 26, 2009

Videos featuring Avis:
Introduction to PDS by Avis E. Buchanan

Rudolph Acree, Jr.

Rudolph Acree, Jr.

Deputy Director

Rudolph “Rudy” Acree, Jr. is the deputy director of PDS.  Mr. Acree began his legal career as a staff attorney at PDS in 1992. During his tenure, Mr. Acree represented children in juvenile delinquency cases and handled countless misdemeanor and felony cases. He was promoted to the position of PDS training director, and later served as the deputy chief of the Trial Division. Upon leaving PDS, Mr. Acree opened his own law practice where he handled a wide range of civil and criminal matters in the District of Columbia and in other jurisdictions. Mr. Acree is a graduate of Howard University and the University of North Carolina School of Law. Before attending law school, he served in the D.C. National Guard and the Army National Guard of New Jersey, and achieved the rank of First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

Positions held at PDS:
Deputy Director (2012-Present)
Deputy Chief, Trial Division (2001-2002)
Training Director, Trial Division (1998-2001)
Staff Attorney, Trial Division (1992-1998)

2012 Washington D.C. Super Lawyer List

Laura Hankins, PDS General Counsel

Laura E. Hankins

General Counsel

Laura E. Hankins is the general counsel for PDS.  As general counsel, Ms. Hankins is the attorney for the organization. She provides counsel to the executive management team on issues related to PDS operations, resolves ethical conflicts, and, as necessary, works with outside counsel on legal matters involving PDS.  Prior to becoming the general counsel, Ms. Hankins served as special counsel to the director.  For sixteen years, Ms. Hankins was responsible for monitoring and commenting on legislation before the D.C. Council that raise criminal justice, juvenile justice, and mental health issues.  She worked on over 50 Council bills covering such issues as post-conviction DNA testing and innocence protection, criminal records sealing, confidentiality of juvenile records, and mandatory minimum prison sentences.  As PDS’s representative on the District of Columbia Sentencing and Criminal Code Revision Commission, Ms. Hankins helped create and assists with the implementation of the District’s voluntary sentencing guidelines, which are consulted in every Superior Court criminal case involving felonies.   She also served on the committee responsible for drafting the District’s pattern criminal jury instructions.  Ms. Hankins was a member of the Legal Ethics Committee of the D.C. Bar from 2010 to 2016 and became a member of the Rules of Professional Conduct Review Committee of the D.C. Bar in 2015.  She began her legal career in 1992 in the Trial Division at PDS, defending indigent juveniles and adults accused of crimes.  In 1997, she joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc (LDF) as an associate counsel with the Criminal Justice Project.  At LDF, Ms. Hankins represented clients in both state and federal courts.  Ms. Hankins returned to PDS in January 2000 to do policy work.  She received a B.A. in economics from Brown University and a J.D. with honors from Harvard Law School.

Positions held at PDS:
General Counsel (2016-Present)
Special Counsel to the Director for Policy (2000-2016)
Staff Attorney, Trial Division (1992-1997)

Janet Mitchell

Janet E. Mitchell

Special Counsel to the Director (Strategic Planning)

As special counsel to the director for strategic planning, Janet Mitchell assists PDS with the implementation of its updated strategic plan and the monitoring of PDS’s performance under the plan, including performing quantitative work and analysis. Ms. Mitchell also works to develop and implement specific PDS initiatives and programs designed to assess and improve the performance of PDS and the court-appointed attorney panel system in the District of Columbia. 

Prior to becoming special counsel, Ms. Mitchell was PDS’s trial chief from 2008 to 2013 where she oversaw over 60 trial attorneys, managing their caseloads, scheduling, and supervision. Ms. Mitchell was also responsible for the overall management and administrative functions of the Trial Division ensuring that each division lawyer met or exceeded the standard of representation required by PDS.  Ms. Mitchell has been at PDS for thirteen years where she has tried over 100 conspiracy, murder, sexual assault, and other major felony cases.  Prior to PDS, she was in private practice focusing on indigent criminal representation.  From 1992 to 1993, Ms. Mitchell served as a law clerk to the Honorable Gregory Mize of the Superior Court in the District of Columbia.  Ms. Mitchell received her B.A. from Reed College and her J.D. from the Columbus School of Law where she was lead articles editor for the Law Review.  She is a member of the D.C. Bar’s Legal Ethics Committee and currently serves as an adjunct professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center. 

Positions held at PDS:
Special Counsel to the Director (2016-Present)
Supervising Staff Attorney, Trial Division (2013-2016)
Chief, Trial Division (2008-2013)
Staff Attorney, Trial Division (2003-2008)

Claire RothClaire T. Roth

Special Counsel to the Director (Ethical Conflicts and CJA Panel)

Ms. Roth began her legal career in 1987 at a D.C. law firm before joining PDS. She received a B.A. double major in philosophy and political science, cum laude from Boston University, a J.D. from George Washington School of Law, and a Masters of Law from Georgetown University Law Center. Ms. Roth was also an International Legal Studies Fellow at the United Nations, International Labor Organization (1986), and an E. Barrett Prettyman Fellow at Georgetown University Law Center (1989-1991).

Positions held at PDS:
Special Counsel to the Director (2002-Present)
Acting Deputy Chief, Trial Division (2001-2002)
Staff Attorney, Trial Division (1992-2001)

KatyaKaterina Semyonova

Special Counsel to the Director (Policy and Legislation)

As the special counsel to the director for policy and legislation, Katerina (Katya) Semyonova represents the Public Defender Service before the D.C. Council and the myriad of other entities whose work affects PDS’s clients. She advocates regarding legislation that is pending before the D.C. Council on issues such as pretrial release, record sealing, and sentencing. In addition to testifying before the Council, Ms. Semyonova takes part in legislative working groups to ensure that the rights of PDS’s clients are protected in legislation. Ms. Semyonova represents PDS on a number of commissions and committees including the District of Columbia Sentencing Commission, which developed and continually refines the structured-sentencing system in place at the D.C. Superior Court, the Redbook Committee, which formulates jury instructions, and participates in the work of the Criminal Code Reform Commission, which is developing criminal code reform recommendations for the D.C. Council and the Mayor.

Prior to becoming special counsel in 2017, Ms. Semyonova was a supervising attorney and a staff attorney in the Trial Division. During that time, Ms. Semyonova represented hundreds of clients in serious felony matters including homicides.

Ms. Semyonova received her B.A. from Wesleyan University and her J.D. from the City University of New York. Prior to law school Ms. Semyonova worked in civil legal services and homeless legal services in New York.

Positions held at PDS:
Special Counsel (2017-Present)
Supervising Attorney, Trial Division (2010-2017 with time away for an appellate rotation)
Staff Attorney, Trial Division (2005-2010)