FacultyFaculty/Author Profile

Donna Lee Elm

Middle District of Florida
Federal Public Defender
Tampa, FL, USA


Donna Lee Elm is the Federal Defender for the Middle District of Florida.   She got her undergraduate degree, a BA in Humanities, from Arizona State University, and followed that with a Masters in Counseling degree and graduate work in religious studies at the same institution.. After four years practicing as a therapist, she returned to school, again at Arizona State, to study law.  Donna graduated with her JD in 1988, winning the Alan Matheson Award for contributions to the law school. During law school, she clerked as a judicial clerk extern for the Honorable Robert Broomfield, U.S. District Court Judge in Phoenix. Upon graduation, she was the last law clerk (before his retirement) to the Honorable Justice William Holohan, of the Arizona Supreme Court.

When her justice retired in 1989, Donna started to work as an Associate in the Phoenix firm of Harrison Harper Christian & Dichter where she practiced in civil litigation and criminal (CJA) appeals. In 1990, she left for the Maricopa County Public Defender’s Office. She rose to Trial Group D Supervisor, then Chief Trial Deputy of the 200-lawyer public practice. After 12 years in that office, she left to join the Phoenix office of the Arizona Federal Public Defender as an Assistant Federal Public Defender, where she remained from 2002-2008. She also served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at her alma mater for 3 years from 2006-2008. In 2008, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals appointed Donna to be the Federal Defender for the Middle District of Florida – a position she still holds.

Donna has been active in the Arizona Women Lawyers’ Association, and has been a member of the American Judicature Society, the 11th Circuit Historical Society, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), and NACDL Affiliates in Arizona (where she rose to being president of the state-wide organization) and Florida. She served for 8 years on the Maircopa County Trial Court Commission (the county judge nominating body), being actively involved in appointment of 51 members of the bench. In 2002, the Arizona Supreme Court appointed her as a Hearing Officer, the trial level judicial position for attorney discipline matters. The State Bar of Arizona appointed her Chair of its Criminal Committee in 2006.

Since assuming her role in Florida in 2008, Donna was nominated to be a member of the American Law Institute, serving as an Advisor on the revisions of the Model Penal Code chapter on sex offenses since 2011. She is a member of the American Bar Association, and was placed of its Editorial Board for its Criminal Justice Magazine in 2014. In 2011, Donna was appointed by the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to serve on the Joint Electronic & Technology Working Group (“JETWG”), a joint project between the Department of Justice and representative of the criminal defense bar, producing a protocol for electronic evidence discovery in federal criminal practice. The following year, he also appointed her to the Defense Automation Working Group (“DAWG”), a national committee planning and overseeing technology and IT developments for the federal defender program. In 2014, she was appointed as chair of that group. In 2012, she was further appointed to the

U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Committee of the federal defender system, and in 2014, she was appointed as one of 2 Federal Defenders on the Clemency Project 2014 Steering Committee.

Donna publishes and teaches widely. She has argued numerous times before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and has taken two cases to the U.S. Supreme Court: Curtis Darnell Johnson v. United States in 2011, and Yates v. United States in 2014..

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