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Ellen McDonnell

Ellen McDonnell

Contra Costa County Public Defender's Office
Reentry Coordinator and Deputy Public Defender
Martinez, CA, USA

Ellen McDonnell has been a Deputy Public Defender with the Contra Costa County Public Defender's Office for the last 16 years and currently serves as the Department’s first AB109 Reentry Coordinator.  During her time at the Public Defender’s Office, she has represented clients in cases ranging from misdemeanors to homicides and has worked in a broad range of assignments, including felonies, juvenile delinquency, mental health and specialty courts.  During her time in felonies, she focused on mental health issues and handled numerous serious felony cases involving mental health and NGI defenses. 

As a Deputy Public Defender, she has worked to practice “holistic” criminal defense and has participated in collaborative courts including Adult and Juvenile Drug Court, Proposition 36 Court, Felony Alternative Drug Sentencing Court (FADS), Behavioral Health Court and Domestic Violence Court.  She served as the Public Defender representative to Behavioral Health Court and other specialty courts for several years and during this time refined her ability to work collaboratively with multiple stakeholders from different departments, including the District Attorney, the Sheriff, Probation, and Mental Health, while always providing zealous advocacy for her clients. 

Since the passage of Proposition 47 in November of 2014, she has been tasked with her department’s Prop 47 implementation, coordination, and outreach. This includes overseeing an expansion of the department’s Clean Slate and Prop 47 programs.  In this capacity, she has increased community outreach and obtained grants from various foundations to support this important work.  As the Reentry Coordinator, she supervises the department’s reentry programs and develops innovative and collaborative programs that reduce recidivism.  She is active in a statewide Criminal Court Fines & Fees work group and is a founding member of the Contra Costa County Traffic Court Reform work group.  

Ms. McDonnell is currently a member of the Judicial Council’s “Ability to Pay” work group and Californian’s for Safety and Justice’s Second Chances Advisory Committee.  Recently, she has served as a member of the LEAD Executive Steering Committee at the Board of State and Community Corrections where she helped to develop programs that will divert those arrested for certain offenses to community-based mental health, drug treatment and other social services. 

She is also a member of the California Public Defender’s Association, the National Association of Pretrial Services, the California Association of Pretrial Services, the Bay Area Proposition 47 Implementation Group and the Contra Costa Pretrial Services work group.   

She has presented to various groups statewide about the barriers to reentry, the impact of fines and fees, the Clean Slate Program, and Proposition 47.  These groups include the Center for Court Innovation, the California Public Defender’s Association, the Legal Aid Association of California, the Pro Bono Training Institute, The Practising Law Institute, The California Revenue Officer’s Association, the California Law Academy Support Council, the Reentry Solutions Group, the Safe Return Project, CCISCO, and various other governmental, reentry, faith-based, and community groups.  She speaks fluent Spanish and has worked closely with the Latino community throughout her years as an attorney.   


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