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Stephen F. Hanlon, J.D.


Courses Taught

Public Interest Litigation Practice


University of Missouri School of Law, 1966

Honors and Awards

  • Nelson Poynter Award, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, 1996
  • Steven M. Goldstein Criminal Justice Award, Florida Association of Criminal Lawyers, 2000
  • Equal Justice Award, Southern Center for Human Rights, 2001
  • Pro Bono Award, The Florida Bar Appellate Practice Section, 2004
  • Citation of Merit, University of Missouri Columbia School of Law, 2006
  • Champions Award, The Legal Times, 2012
  • Robert F. Drinan Award, Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section, American Bar Association, 2013

Professional Organizations and Associations

  • General Counsel, National Association for Public Defense, (22,000 members), 2014-2020
  • Past Chairman, The Florida Bar, Public Interest Law Section
  • Past President, Florida Legal Services
  • Past Chair of the Executive Council, American Bar Association, Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section
  • Past Chair, American Bar Association, Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project
  • Chair, Indigent Defense Advisory Group, Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense, American Bar Association
  • Past Chair, The Constitution Project, The Constitution Project
  • Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center

Community Work and Service

Stephen F. Hanlon has a long history of handling public interest and civil rights cases. In 1989, he founded the Community Services Team (CST) at Holland & Knight and for the next 23 years he served as the Partner in Charge of the CST, which during Hanlon’s tenure was the largest full-time private practice pro bono department in the nation. In 1997, Holland and Knight received the ABA Pro Bono Publico Award. The American Lawyer described Holland and Knight as a “pro bono champion.” In 2006, Hanlon received the Chesterfield Smith Award from Holland & Knight, the firm's highest individual recognition given to a firm partner.

Since his retirement from Holland & Knight at the end of 2012, Hanlon has confined his practice to assisting and representing public defenders with excessive caseloads. He now serves as a Professor of Practice at Saint Louis University School of Law.

Hanlon was lead counsel for the Missouri Public Defender in State ex rel. Mo. Public Defender Commission, , 370 S.W.3d 592 (Mo.banc 2012), which was the first state supreme court case to uphold the right of a public defender organization to refuse additional cases when confronted with excessive caseloads. The Waters case has been described as a “watershed moment” in indigent defense. Davies, Andrew Lucas Blaize Davies, “How Do We ‘Do Data’ in Public Defense?,” 78 Albany Law Review 1179.

Hanlon was the project director for the American Bar Association in the critically acclaimed study of the workload of the Missouri Public Defender undertaken by RubinBrown on behalf of the American Bar Association, known as “The Missouri Project,” available at He currently serves as the project director for similar studies in several states. The ABA Journal Magazine has called him “The Oracle” for public defender workload studies. In 2019, the New York Times described him as “one of the leading voices in public interest law for decades."

For the last 20 years, Mr. Hanlon has filed systemic indigent defense reform litigation across the nation, published four law review articles about that system, taught a law school course at SLU LAW about that system, spoken out publicly about that system, and testified as an expert witness in litigation seeking to change that system. His work has been featured in the New York Times, on 60 Minutes and on the PBS Evening News Hour.

After graduating from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1966, Hanlon practiced law with his father in St. Louis. He then served as the executive vice president and general counsel of a joint venture subsidiary of Marathon Oil Company before moving to Florida to begin his civil rights practice with Bay Area Legal Services in Tampa in 1976. In the 1980s, Hanlon engaged in a wide variety of civil trial practice while continuing his civil rights work.

Mr. Hanlon has recently formed his own law firm, known asLawyer Hanlon. This firm now works with other law firms, lawyers, experts, law professors and law students who have expressed an interest in working with him in his efforts to achieve significant structural reform of our nation’s criminal justice system through systemic change of our nation’s public defense system.

Hanlon has represented many individuals in housing, employment and HIV/AIDS discrimination cases, as well as two inmates on Florida's death row. Some of his significant cases in class action, multiple plaintiff and associational plaintiff litigation are summarized below.

  • Class action on behalf of all Florida high school students challenging constitutionality of Florida's Functional Literacy Test. Four year injunction. (Work with Center for Law and Education.) Debra v. Turlington, 730 F. 2nd 1405 (11th Cir. 1984.)
  • Class of 5,000 dark-skinned tenant-applicants for apartment housing. Obtained injunctive relief and $3.4 million settlement. (Work with Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.)
  • Survivors and descendants of African American town of Rosewood destroyed by neighboring whites in 1923. $2.1 million award from Florida Legislature. (Work with Partner Martha Barnett). (See, "Like Judgment Day", Michael D'Orso, Boulevard Books, New York).
  • Class of indigent criminal defendants challenging constitutionality of Massachusetts indigent defense system. Massachusetts Legislature increased public defender appropriations from $98 million to $154.5 million. (Work with Holland & Knight partner and trial lawyer Joshua Krumholz.)
  • Two cases challenging the constitutionality of capital indigent defense system in Florida. Substantial increase in funding and holding that compensation above legislative caps is appropriate. Arbelaez v. Butterworth, 738 So. 2nd 326 (Fla. 1999); Mass v. Olive, 992 So. 2nd 196 (Fla. 2008)
  • Overburdened statewide public defender organization’s refusal to accept additional cases sustained, even if that ultimately means some low risk offenders will be released because they don’t have a lawyer. State ex rel. Missouri Public Defender v. Waters, 370 S.W. 2d 592 (Mo. banc 2012)
  • See, Stephen F. Hanlon, “The Appropriate Legal Standard Required to Prevail in a Systemic Challenge to an Indigent Defense System, 61 St. Louis U.L.J. 625 (2017); Case Refusal: A Duty for a Public Defender and a Remedy for All of a Public Defender’s Clients, 51 Ind. L. Rev. 59 (2018)”
  • See, Stephen F. Hanlon, “State Constitutional Challenges to Indigent Defense Systems,” 75 MO.L.REV 751 (2010); “The Gideon Decision: Constitutional Mandate or Empty Promise? A Fifty-Year Deal Under Fire,” 52 U. Louisville L. Rev. Online 32 (2013)
  • Class of low-income, high risk pregnant women who were unwitting subjects of medical experimentation. Obtained injunctive relief and $3.8 million in damages. Diaz v. Hillsborough County Hospital, 2000 WL 1682918 (M.D. Fla), August 7, 2000.
  • Unincorporated association obtained wide-ranging consent decree to end decades of lead based paint problems in public housing complex. Concerned Parents of Jordan Park v. The Housing Authority of The City of St. Petersburg, 934 F.Supp. 406 (M.D. Fla. 1996).
  • Class action on behalf of all Mississippi death row prisoners. Obtained injunction requiring far reaching reforms of grossly inhumane conditions. (Work with Margaret Winter). Gates v. Cook, 376 F.3d 323 (5th Cir. 2004).
  • Class of 1,000 men in Mississippi supermax prison. By settlement, obtained release from confinement of 90% of state's administrative segregation population and ultimately closed down the supermax prison. (Work with Margaret Winter). Presley v. Epps, (N.D. Miss.2004)
  • See, Margaret Winter and Stephen F. Hanlon "Parchman Farm Blues," ABA Magazine Litigation, Volume 35, Number 1, Fall, 2008.