Experienced Defender Cheyla Bush Named DPA’s First DEI Director

The Department of Public Advocacy (DPA) is dedicated to equal and fair treatment both in the legal system and in its own workplace.  Toward this end, DPA has named public defender Cheyla Bush as its first Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Cheyla earned a degree in psychology and her law degree both from the University of Louisville.  Since joining DPA in 2015, she has served as a staff attorney in the LaGrange, Shelbyville, and Frankfort trial offices.  She has been active in DPA efforts to recruit an excellent and diverse workforce, representing DPA at job fairs throughout the country.  Cheyla brings a wealth of experience to this role.

As DEI Director, she will serve on DPA’s Leadership Team and will lead the agency’s efforts both to build diverse, inclusive, and supportive workplaces and to address inequities in the legal system.  She will serve as resource for all employees and an important advisor to DPA’s leaders.  As attorneys litigate cases involving disparate treatment of clients based on race, gender, ethnicity, or other grounds, Cheyla will serve as a consultant or direct litigator to develop challenges to discriminatory practices.

The Department of Public Advocacy is proud to welcome Cheyla Bush to leadership in this vital and hopefully transformative role.

Jennifer Wittmeyer Named Conflict Region Manager

The Department of Public Advocacy is pleased to announce that Jennifer Wittmeyer has been appointed as the new Conflict Region Manager.  Jennifer graduated Cum Laude from George Mason School of Law in Arlington, Virginia and received her undergraduate degree from Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Kentucky. While living in Washington, D.C., Jennifer worked for both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Justice.  Jennifer began her career as a public defender with the Louisville Metro Public Defender and joined DPA as a Staff Attorney in the Cynthiana Trial office in 2007.  Jennifer became the Directing Attorney in Cynthiana and worked in that position for two years before becoming the Directing Attorney in the Bullitt County trial office in 2012.   In September 2020, Jennifer was promoted to Central Region Manager.

Jennifer grew up on a vegetable farm in southern Ohio but is now proud to call Louisville home and lives there with her son, Brycen, and their two dogs, Peanut and Jello.

Damon Preston Reappointed Public Advocate

Cheryl Witt and Blanche Williams being honored by Public Advocate Preston prior to their retirement in 2021, for over 40 years of service.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (July 29, 2021) – On the recommendation of the Kentucky Public Advocacy Commission, Governor Andy Beshear has reappointed Damon Preston to serve another four-year term as Kentucky’s Public Advocate, the leader of the statewide public defender system and the Department of Public Advocacy (DPA).

Commission Chair Cortney Lollar commented on the reappointment asserting, “Kentucky’s public defender program is a highly respected, nationally recognized program that has continued to flourish under Public Advocate Preston. During his four years as Public Advocate, Damon deftly navigated the agency through the uncertain and challenging waters of the COVID-19 pandemic and the beginnings of a racial reckoning following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others. He also kept the agency in a fiscally sound position despite the budget challenges facing our state over the past few years.”

In response to the reappointment, Public Advocate Preston said, “I’m honored and blessed to be able to serve the Administration and DPA clients for another four years.  I appreciate Governor Beshear’s strong support of Kentucky public defenders.” Continuing an emphasis on open communication between DPA’s central administration and its employees around the state, Preston announced his reappointment during an online Statewide Employee Meeting on July 23.  Preston encouraged DPA staff members that the reappointment is a vote of confidence in the professionalism and dedication of everyone in the Department, but stressed that there is much work to be done for our clients in the next four years.

The DPA is the statewide public defender system charged with providing legal representation to indigent Kentuckians facing loss of liberty due to criminal allegations. The DPA is committed to fighting for justice for their clients and seeking systemic change to address racial inequities, law enforcement misconduct, and violence.

Mark Mantooth Appointed Stanton Directing Attorney

The Public Advocate is pleased to announce that Mark Mantooth has been appointed as the Directing Attorney of the Stanton Trial Office. Mark grew up in Morehead and taught high school English and journalism before earning his law degree. He is an alumnus of Samford University, Morehead State University, and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. He started in the Stanton office in 2014 and, after a brief hiatus from DPA, has spent the last year and a half in the Morehead office.

Department of Public Advocacy awarded more than $100,000 for Data Collection, Pilot Program in Hardin County

Funding to address adverse effects of COVID-19 on indigent clients

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Dec. 14, 2020) – The Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy (DPA) has been awarded $102,270 from the U.S. Department of Justice’s (USDOJ) Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Program (CESF) administered by the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet to gather pandemic-related data and launch a pilot project in Hardin County.

The worldwide pandemic has created new obstacles in an already burdened criminal justice system. Starting in March, courtrooms temporarily closed physical doors and opened newly-created virtual doors. Defenders, judges, prosecutors, and detention centers worked to transform traditional courts into new virtual spaces, aiming to maintain access to lawyers and the courts, while also ensuring the health and safety of those involved.

Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Mary Noble recognized that the federal CESF grant funding was critical in order for DPA to better serve their clients during this pandemic while in-person court and legal services were temporarily halted for safety precautions. “This grant funding is instrumental to DPA as their legal staff and clients work to adjust to the current functioning within the court system and how legal services are being provided electronically. DPA’s pilot project will help us determine how best to use virtual services going forward.”

“With this funding, the Department of Public Advocacy will be able to gather more accurate data about the challenges of virtual courts, identify the best practices to address those challenges, and begin to implement solutions through a pilot project in Hardin County,” said Public Advocate, Damon Preston. “We are very appreciative that the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet has entrusted us with these funds and this role to improve the justice system during this challenging time.”

The pilot program will launch in Hardin County beginning in January 2021. Clients receiving legal representation from DPA will be able to virtually consult with attorneys and attend court hearings through the installation of enhanced technology in all courtrooms throughout the county. Chief Regional Circuit Judge Kelly Mark Easton, Chief Regional District Judge Kimberly Shumate, and Hardin County Jailer Josh Lindblom are in full support of the project.

“The Covid-19 pandemic presents challenges not just for the courts in conducting hearings, but also for the attorneys, which in most felony cases are public defenders with the DPA. This grant will enable better access to remote hearing technology, and will make it possible for attorneys and clients to discuss cases privately before and during court dockets. Better access and improved communication will help the courts to move cases as promptly as possible through the criminal justice process.” Judge Kelly Easton of Hardin County Circuit Court.

 “Our Hardin County DPA Office is working diligently to serve the needs of its clients both in and out of custody and the lack of technology is hampering that representation. The Hardin District Court stands ready to assist Prosecutors, Public Defenders, Private Counsel, Jail and Clerks in any innovative feasible way to allow better communication, preparation and representation of defendants and victims in the justice system.” Judge Kimberly Shumate of Hardin County District Court.

As the only regular court participant with a unified statewide structure, DPA is in a unique position to assist the commonwealth in finding technology solutions to protect both the health and the rights of the accused.

“Public Defenders are integral. Change and progress cannot be made without defender input and guidance. This grant recognizes the pivotal role of public defenders, and also the responsibility of public defenders to use their position to work to find solutions for our clients during the pandemic,” said Melanie Foote, DPA’s Education and Strategic Planning Manager

The grant will fund two related, but separate, efforts to respond to systemic pandemic-created constitutional barriers for economically disadvantaged clients.  

Data Collection. At the onset of the pandemic, DPA began gathering statewide data related to safety of participants in the court system and defender client access to courts and lawyers. Using that limited information, some technology solutions were identified and implemented, but DPA did not have the capacity to acquire and maintain comprehensive data. The grant will increase the capacity and allow timely data to be analyzed and provided to community partners so that solutions can be implemented. Likewise, the information gathered as a part of this project will be used to inform future preparedness, prevention, and response efforts.

Pilot Project. Using the data gathered, the grant will fund a pilot project in Hardin County to implement solutions to identified challenges, in collaboration with Hardin County judges, prosecutors and the Jailer. This will include greater access to attorneys and increased access to the courts, all in a manner that follows guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vicki O’Connell Appointed Human Resources Branch Manager

The Public Advocate is pleased to announce that Vicki O’Connell has been appointed as Human Resources Branch Manager for Law Operations.  She is currently a Human Resources Administrator with DPA. Her expertise is in personnel and payroll. Since her employment with DPA she has gained knowledge in Health Insurance, Sick Leave, Workers’ Comp, and Family Medical Leave as well as understanding the vital services provided by DPA to the Commonwealth.  Vicki started with the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 2007 with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Before working for the Commonwealth she was part of the Top Management Team with McDonald’s Restaurants in Frankfort, Versailles and Lexington where she was employed as Marketing Director. Vicki has lived in Frankfort her entire life where she enjoys her kids and grandkids.

Jennifer Wittmeyer Appointed Central Regional Manager

Created with GIMP

The Public Advocate is pleased to announce that Jennifer Wittmeyer has been appointed as the new Central Regional Manager.  Jennifer graduated Cum Laude from George Mason School of Law in Arlington, Virginia and received her undergraduate degree from Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Kentucky. While living in Washington, D.C., Jennifer worked for both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Justice.  Jennifer began her career as a public defender with the Louisville Metro Public Defender and joined DPA as a Staff Attorney in the Cynthiana Trial office in 2007.  Jennifer became the Directing Attorney in Cynthiana and worked in that position for two years before becoming the Directing Attorney in the Bullitt County trial office in 2012.   Jennifer grew up on a vegetable farm in southern Ohio but is now proud to call Louisville home and lives there with her son, Brycen, and their two dogs, Peanut and Jello.

Charlie Thomas Appointed Richmond Directing Attorney

The Public Advocate is pleased to announce that Charlie Thomas has been appointed as the Directing Attorney of the Richmond Trial Office. Charlie joined DPA in 2010 as an attorney in the Hopkinsville Office. From there, he went to the Bowling Green Office, and he has been in Richmond for the last six years. Originally from Glasgow, Kentucky, Charlie obtained both his undergraduate degree and law degree from the University of Kentucky. In his free time, Charlie enjoys concerts, UK basketball, kayaking, and movies.

DPA’s Commitment to Racial Justice

The Department of Public Advocacy is committed to fighting for justice for our clients and seeking systemic change to address racial inequities and law enforcement misconduct and violence.  Beyond the justice system, we strive to recognize the pain and anger of our Black colleagues and friends and to combat the societal obstacles to true equality.  We are also committed to personal and collective growth by listening to the voices of people of color and humbly examining our own behavior, beliefs, and language to ensure that we are not merely pointing to others, but seeking to be a part of the solution ourselves.


You can read and download the DPA’s Full Commitment to Racial Justice below

DPA Commitment to Racial Justice

The Department of Public Advocacy is proud of the many public defenders and others who marched this week in support of racial justice and in opposition to police violence, especially that which is unjustly targeted against communities of color. To public defenders, who have dedicated their careers to standing against injustice, the circumstances of the deaths of George Floyd – brutality against a Black man suspected of a minor crime – and Breonna Taylor – senseless and unnecessary invasion of a Black person’s home – are horrifying, but not unprecedented.

In courtrooms around the Commonwealth, DPA attorneys regularly stand with Black clients who experience every part of the justice system differently because of their race:

  • Suspected, when others are not;
  • Approached and Stopped, when others are ignored;
  • Searched, often Forcibly, when others are simply questioned;
  • Charged, when others are given a warning;
  • Violently Arrested, when others are cited and released;
  • Jailed and Detained, when others are able to post bail;
  • Convicted, when others are dismissed;
  • Made Felons, when others are given misdemeanors;
  • Sent to Prison, when others are probated;
    • and in too many cases, including George Floyd,
  • Killed, when others live.


The Department of Public Advocacy is committed to fighting for justice for our clients and seeking systemic change to address racial inequities and law enforcement misconduct and violence. Beyond the justice system, we strive to recognize the pain and anger of our Black colleagues and friends and to combat the societal obstacles to true equality. We are also committed to personal and collective growth by listening to the voices of people of color and humbly examining our own behavior, beliefs, and language to ensure that we are not merely pointing to others, but seeking to be a part of the solution ourselves. Through the addition of a number of sessions at this month’s Annual Conference on many topics relating to the role of race within the justice system, we have sought to begin this process. Moving forward, we invite anyone who wants to contribute to DPA’s conversation on these matters to contact us at DPA.RacialJustice@ky.gov.


Both collectively and individually, the employees of the Department of Public Advocacy are devoted to the truth that Black Lives Matter.