NATIONAL CRIMINAL DEFENSE COLLEGE FACULTY
Trial Attorney & Training Attorney; CPCS (MA Public Defender)
Connor Barusch (“Barusch”) (he/they) joined CPCS, the Massachusetts Public Defender, in 2011, working as a trial attorney in several different neighborhoods in Boston at the District Court and Superior Court levels. In 2018, he rotated into the Training Department. During law school, Barusch co-founded and worked at a free legal clinic called Massachusetts Transgender Legal Advocates. Before joining CPCS, they worked as a law clerk at the Massachusetts Appeals Court and as an associate at Kauffman Crozier LLP, an LGBT family law firm. Barusch loves trying cases, cooking, running and playing board games.
Barusch became interested in public defender work after witnessing and beginning to understand the impact of mass incarceration on queer people, especially queer people of color. As a white person, Barusch believes that white public defenders should take on a special role in combating racism against our clients as well as standing in solidarity with our public defender colleagues of color. He is constantly on a journey of learning to hold himself and other white public defenders accountable for the mistakes we make in our jobs and in our lives related to racism and would love to have conversations with the NCDC community about what accountability and solidarity should look like.
Recent Teaching History
Recht Kornfeld, PC
With experience in more than 100 jury trials, David Beller specializes in criminal defense litigation, attorney and judicial discipline, and the collateral consequences that accompany a criminal allegation. He represents individuals and organizations involved as targets, subjects, or witnesses in state and federal criminal investigations and related grand jury and pretrial proceedings.
David brings a depth of experience in managing crisis level regulatory and criminal matters, as well as in advising clients on how to structure compliance programs so as to help avoid such problems. David’s experience includes the most thorough and sophisticated representation in all state level misdemeanor and felony allegations from DUIs to homicide.
He has defended actions throughout Colorado and worked opposite both municipal and state prosecutors, Colorado Attorney General, Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, Department of Human & Health Services (TRAILS), Office of Attorney Regulation, Judicial discipline, university disciplinary boards, SEC, Department of Justice, and United States Attorney’s Offices for the Districts of Colorado and the Eastern District of California. His litigation skills have also been called on to assist in the representation and support of firm clients in complex civil and regulatory actions.
Prior to joining Recht Kornfeld, P.C., David was a Colorado State Public Defender. He is a Colorado native and attended school in Fort Collins, earning a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science in 1999, and his Juris Doctor in Ohio in 2004. In 2007 David joined Recht Kornfeld, PC and was made a Partner in 2012.
David served as President of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, proudly serving 1000 criminal defense lawyers, paralegals and investigators. He is a frequent guest lecturer at the University of Denver College of Law and at Metropolitan State University. He is a faculty member of Colorado Alternate Defense Counsel, teaching trial skills to Colorado criminal defense lawyers. He serves by appointment of the Denver Presiding Judge as a Commissioner of the Office of Municipal Public Defender and was appointed by the Colorado Supreme Court to serve on the Committee for Character and Fitness. As a legal analyst, David has been consulted and quoted by The New York Times, CNN, Fox News, The Boston Globe, The Denver Post and local news affiliates, amongst others. David is also a published author, coauthoring 2015’s Colorado DUI Defense Manual, published by Circuit Media.
Since starting his legal career, David has consistently been recognized as one of Denver’s premier attorneys. In 2007, he was named by Law Week Magazine as one of Denver’s Top 20 Up and Coming Lawyers. He has been named one of Denver’s best criminal defense lawyers in each of the 2009-2020 editions of Super Lawyers Magazine and 5280 Magazine named him a Denver Top Lawyer every year since 2017. David has been named by The National Trial Lawyers as one of Colorado’s top 40 trial lawyers under the age of 40. In 2014, they named him as one of the 100 best trial lawyers in the nation. In March 2015, the Denver Business Journal named David amongst Denver’s Top 40 business leaders under the age of 40.
Recent Teaching History
Attorney, Johns, Flaherty & Collins, S.C.
Keith Belzer is a nationally recognized lecturer and teacher on criminal defense issues, trial techniques and strategies. In addition to his position on the faculty at the National Criminal Defense College in Macon, Georgia, and the Wisconsin Trial Skills Academy, Mr. Belzer has lectured or taught criminal defense lawyers in most of the 50 states. He also has presented to the Israeli National Public Defender, the Puerto Rican CJA Panel and The People’s Republic of China, where Mr. Belzer was the keynote speaker at the first public defender regional training ever held in China. Mr. Belzer has been named a Wisconsin Super Lawyer by his peers every year since its inception in 2005. In 2006 Mr. Belzer received one of 12 statewide Leaders in the Law awards from the Wisconsin Law Journal. Mr. Belzer is also a frequent commentator on national, statewide and local legal issues and has appeared on such nationally syndicated shows as 48 Hours, Good Morning America, Crime Scene Investigation, The O’Reilly Factor and Geraldo at Large.
Mr. Belzer has had the honor and privilege of representing three Wisconsin Innocence Project clients who were ultimately exonerated. One of these clients, Evan Zimmerman, a man previously falsely convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a homicide that he did not commit, was the subject of a feature length documentary, Facing Life, the Retrial of Evan Zimmerman, which can be seen in syndication on the Arts and Entertainment Network and the History Channel. Keith has also worked as an actor, director and playwright. Keith has acted in Illinois, Wisconsin, Vermont and Connecticut. Plays he has written have been produced in California, Illinois, Connecticut, and Wisconsin. Prior to law school, Keith co-founded one theater company and managed two others and devoted close to a decade of his life exclusively to the world of theater.
Recent Teaching History
2019 Trial Practice Institute (June Session)
2018 Trial Practice institute (June Session)
2017 Trial Practice Institute (June Session)
2016 Trial Practice Institute (June Session)
2015 Trial Practice Institute (June Session)
Training Consultant; National Association for Public Defense & Gideon’s Promise
Cathleen L. Bennett recently moved to Anchorage, Alaska from Boston, Massachusetts where she was a public defender with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (the Massachusetts Statewide Public Defender) for 30 years. She was the Criminal Defense Training Director at CPCS for 17 years. As a trial lawyer in the CPCS Public Defender Division, she defended clients charged with murder and other serious felonies. She now works as a training consultant for the National Association for Public Defense and for Gideon’s Promise, and she intends to accept appointments to represent criminally accused people in the Alaska Courts soon.
Cathy is on the faculty and the Board of Trustees of the National Criminal Defense College. She is a Core Faculty member of Gideon’s Promise (formerly the Southern Public Defender Training Center), which was the subject of the award winning HBO documentary “Gideon’s Army,” and she has taught for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and criminal defense training programs across the country.
She received the Thurgood Marshall Award from the Committee for Public Counsel Services in 2007, the Scholar-Mentor Award from Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc. (MCLE) in 2008, the Outstanding Faculty Award in 2011 and the Stephen B. Bright Award in 2018 from Gideon’s Promise, and the Gideon Award from the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in 2017.
Recent Teaching History
Attorney, Parrett Porto Parese and Colwell, PC
For over twenty-six years, Tamar R. Birckhead has represented individuals charged with criminal offenses in the state and federal court systems at both the trial and appellate levels. Licensed to practice in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina, Tamar has defended clients in a wide variety of criminal cases—from serious felonies in state court to alleged acts of terrorism in federal court. Among her clients was Richard Reid, the attempted “Shoe Bomber” prosecuted in the District of Massachusetts under the U.S.A. Patriot Act.
In her Connecticut practice, Tamar regularly defends clients facing serious criminal charges in Connecticut’s Superior Courts (both GA and Part A) located in Bridgeport, Manchester, Meriden, Middletown, Milford, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwalk, and Waterbury, although she has handled cases throughout the state. She also defends the rights of clients prosecuted in federal court in the Districts of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Tamar offers an aggressive criminal defense strategy and devotes substantial resources analyzing the government’s evidence against you, often working with leading experts, such as former law enforcement officers, toxicologists, forensic computer analysts, forensic psychologists, and forensic accountants.
For many years Tamar has also handled school discipline defense and appeals. She frequently represents college as well as high school students accused of violating their school’s code of conduct, which can result in suspension or expulsion as well as the initiation of criminal prosecution that arises from the same conduct. Code of conduct violations may include academic dishonesty, including plagiarizing and cheating; alcohol-related offenses; campus sexual assault and rape cases; fraternity, sorority, and athletic team hazing; and the possession, sale, or distribution of illegal drugs as well as the illegal use of prescription drugs. Tamar has represented students facing disciplinary charges at colleges throughout Connecticut, including the University of Connecticut, the University of New Haven, Quinnipiac University, Wesleyan University, and Yale University. She also represents high school students in the state’s public, private and boarding schools on matters ranging from assault and possession of a weapon to threats and bullying.
Tamar graduated cum laude from Yale University and Harvard Law School. After a decade as a public defender in Massachusetts, she taught criminal and juvenile defense as a tenured law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law where she also served as Director of Clinical Programs. Tamar is the author of more than a dozen law review articles on topics related to criminal defense as well as an editor and contributor to several juvenile justice-related books. She has written opinion pieces for major publications, including The Nation, New York Daily News, and Los Angeles Times and has provided legal commentary on the challenges of defending high-profile criminal suspects for CNN, Fox News, and the Wall Street Journal, among many other television, radio, print, and web-based media outlets.
Tamar is a member of the Connecticut Bar Association, Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Federal Bar Association, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and New Haven County Bar Association. She regularly volunteers in the New Haven County Bar Association’s Ask-a-Lawyer Legal Consultation Clinics and serves on the Board of Directors and as a volunteer judge for Project Youth Court, a diversionary program for adolescents in New Haven.
Tamar prides herself on the close, collaborative working relationships she has with her clients. She is available for a free consultation and often meets, speaks or texts with clients on evenings and weekends. Tamar understands that facing criminal charges can be a frightening experience, and she spends as much time patiently counseling her clients as she does rigorously advocating for them in the courtroom.
Tamar lives with her husband and their two teenage daughters in Guilford.
Partner; Bloch & White LLP
Michael Bloch is an accomplished trial attorney with an unparalleled record of courtroom success. Most recently, he was one of the lead attorneys in Sines v. Kessler, the historic federal civil rights lawsuit brought against the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who conspired to commit racially-motivated violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. The four-week jury trial resulted in a $26 million judgment for Michael’s clients.
Prior to launching Bloch & White LLP, Michael practiced at Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, where he represented individuals investigated by various state and federal regulatory agencies, in addition to leading other plaintiff-side matters, including the Charlottesville litigation. Before Kaplan Hecker, Michael spent over seven years as a public defender at the Bronx Defenders and three years at Williams & Connolly LLP.
At Bronx Defenders, Michael represented hundreds of clients charged with criminal matters at all stages of litigation. He tried more than a dozen felony and misdemeanor cases to verdict and earned an acquittal or dismissal of all criminal charges in all but one case. In his last four years as a public defender, he tried seven cases to jury verdict – as lead counsel on five of them – and earned a full acquittal on all of them. In addition to working as a staff attorney, Michael was a supervisor in the Criminal Defense Practice, counseling a team of five to eight felony-certified attorneys on criminal matters from arrest through trial. Michael was also a member of the Homicide Practice Group, and previously served as a supervisor of the Investigations Practice, training and overseeing the team of Bronx Defenders investigators. At Williams & Connolly LLP in Washington, D.C., Michael worked primarily in the areas of commercial litigation and legal malpractice defense.
Michael has been a member of the faculty of the leading trial advocacy schools in the country, including Harvard Law School’s Trial Advocacy Workshop, National Criminal Defense College, the New York State Bar Association’s Trial Academy and The Defenders’ Academy. He has been a guest lecturer on civil procedure at Columbia Law School, the University of Virginia School of Law, and Georgetown University Law Center, among others. Michael has conducted numerous trainings on trial advocacy and criminal defense investigations.
Michael graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he represented clients charged with crimes in Roxbury District Court as part of the Criminal Justice Institute, and he worked with the NAACP representing a client in post-conviction proceedings as part of the Death Penalty Clinic. He was also a member of the winning team in the Ames Moot Court competition. After law school, Michael served as a law clerk to the Honorable Chief Judge Helen Ginger Berrigan on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana and subsequently to the Honorable Diane P. Wood on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Michael graduated cum laude from Wesleyan University with a B.A. in Government. Before law school, he worked as a criminal defense investigator with the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C.
Michael has been a member of the New York City Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Operations Committee and Mass Incarceration Task Force. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, USA Today, New York Daily News, Bloomberg Law, Law360, National Law Journal, The Champion and The Forward.
Recent Teaching History
VP, Defender Services and Strategic Alliances, National Legal Aid and Defender Association
Alison Bloomquist has been trying public defense cases in New England since 2005. She served for over ten years as a staff public defender in greater Boston, two of them as Attorney‐in‐Charge of the Norfolk Superior Court office at the Committee for Public Counsel Services. She served for six years as the Director of Training for the Connecticut Division of Public Defender Services, where she coordinated training for attorneys, investigators, social workers, and clerks in all aspects of criminal defense. In 2021, Alison became Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Innovation for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA). She has been invited to teach federal and state public defenders all across the country, including as faculty at the National Criminal Defense College (NCDC), and has authored several trial skills publications. She is a graduate of Northeastern University School of Law, and Boston University College of Arts and Sciences. She is an executive committee member of the National Alliance of Indigent Defense Educators (NAIDE) and a Black Public Defender Association (BPDA) Certified Anti-Racism Trainer. Alison lives in West Hartford with her wife, three children and their silver lab, Cooper.
Recent Teaching History:
Federal Public Defender
MELODY BRANNON is the Federal Public Defender for the District of Kansas. She has been with the federal defender office for 23 years. She began her career as a public defender in the Oklahoma County Public Defender in 1990, and worked in death penalty defense at both trial and habeas levels in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. As Federal Defender, she has developed a holistic defense paradigm for federal cases and created an extensive CLE, mentoring, and internship program.
Criminal Defense Attorney, Kirschbaum Law Group
Jennifer Buyske, LCDR U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAGC), earned her J.D., with honors, at Gonzaga University School of Law in 2010. She is licensed in the States of Montana and Connecticut, and was commissioned in the United States Navy in 2010. As a defense counsel within the JAGC, Jen has tried numerous cases to verdict. In her 12 years of service, she has been stationed in Guam, Florida, and Connecticut. She now does habeas corpus and criminal defense practice in CT and serves as a JAG Reservist. Jen has been invited to teach all across the country, including CO, MA, CT, WA, as well as for the JAGC. She currently lives in West Hartford, with her wife and three kids.
Recent Teaching History
2022 NCDC Trial Practice Institute (June Session)
2022 Winter Online Cross (January/February 2022)
2021 NCDC Trial Practice Institute (July Session)