Our Mission

Operation Protect & Defend (often referred to simply as “OPD”) is a program by lawyers, judges, and teachers committed to civics education in public schools that reflects the wisdom of retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy that “Democracy must be taught.”

We believe that the privilege of being admitted to the bench and bar carries with it a responsibility to serve the nation through fostering democratic principles. We also believe that working with teachers to help engage students in a dialogue about their citizenship rights and responsibilities under their Constitution and their government invigorates our democracy.

Law Day Dinner

OPD History

Operation Protect & Defend was established in 2001 through the efforts of the Honorable Frank C. Damrell, Jr. (Ret.) in concert with members of the local bench and bar, and Sacramento area teachers. Believing strongly in their obligation to serve our nation by actively fostering important democratic principles, judges, lawyers, and teachers have worked each year to design a curriculum, including selected readings and court opinions, to help educate high school students on critical constitutional topics. Since 2001, thousands of students have participated in the program, and more than one hundred cash awards and prizes have been provided to students. Operation Protect & Defend remains firmly committed to engaging Northern California high school students in learning key principles of the United States Constitution and how those principles impact their lives.

Celebrating 15 Years of Operation Protect and Defend
By Chi Soo Kim

The month following the September 11th attacks, the Honorable Frank C. Damrell, Jr., United States District Judge of the Eastern District of California (Ret.), spoke at the annual Stanislaus County Bar Association’s bench-bar dinner and gave the following remarks:

Today, after 9/11, patriotism is in full flower.  The American flag is proudly displayed in our homes and in our businesses.  On the front pages of our newspapers people are publicly reflecting what it means to be an American and extol the value of American citizenship, yet there are other stories on pages 4 and 5 of our newspapers such as the Sikh convenience store owner in Arizona.  He had a dark complexion and wore a turban and was shot and killed for no apparent reason.  He was an American citizen like you and me.  Then there is the Arab-born shopkeeper in Reedley who recently was gunned down.  He was an American citizen like you and me.  This evil side of American resolve is born of ignorance.  The perpetrators of these evil acts do not know America or what America stands for.  They live in the iron grip of ignorance. . . . [Ignorance] requires the mobilization of all to protect and defend the values of the Constitution of the United States.  I call it:  “Operation Protect and Defend.” . . . 

Lawyers must now realize they are citizens who have been given the privilege of being educated in the law and the Constitution.  You members of the legal profession have been chosen to prosecute and defend our fellow citizens; you are entitled to counsel fellow citizens on the meaning of the law; you, alone, are eligible to be chosen to judge and ultimately interpret the law and the Constitution for all Americans, including the government itself.  If lawyers are given the privilege to assume such public responsibility to protect and defend the Constitution, lawyers therefore must become the educators as well as protectors and defenders of the Constitution and its values.

Honorable Frank C. Damrell, Jr. October 2001 Modesto, California

And so began Operation Protect and Defend (“OPD”). Over fifteen years later, Operation Protect and Defend remains one of the most active civics organizations in the Sacramento area.  In the 2016-2017 year, Operation Protect and Defend sent over 80 volunteers into 62 classrooms in twelve Sacramento high schools and one class of Sacramento-area home school students.

OPD’s Founding

After his October 2001 speech, Judge Damrell began reaching out to other judges and members of the bar, forming an informal steering committee comprised of Eastern District of California District Judge Morrison C. England, Jr. (a Sacramento Superior Court Judge at the time), prominent local attorney Joe Genshlea who founded one of Sacramento’s largest law firms (now called Weintraub Tobin), Eastern District of California District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller (an attorney in private practice at the time), California Court of Appeal Justice Arthur Scotland, Third Appellate District (Ret.), and then Assistant United States Attorney Robin Taylor.  Judge Damrell and Genshlea accompanied United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on a visit to Ellen Wong’s class at C.K. McClatchy High School to discuss the need for civic education.  And at an April 12, 2002 event hosted by the Federal Bar Association and the Sacramento County Bar Association, Judge Damrell invited and challenged the bar to “teach Democracy.  We must take hold of our own citizenship responsibilities.  There must a sense of urgency about us.  There must be a clear and unmistakable call for leadership in every community, school district, and university.  This effort needs support from the highest levels of the federal and state governments to local school boards, administrators and teachers and lawyers and judges.”

Call to All LawyersAfter months of discussions and meetings, Judge Damrell and the steering committee arrived at the idea of sending a judge-and-lawyer pair into local high school classrooms to teach civics to create a dialogue with students (the “Dialogue” program).  OPD would also include an essay contest that explored issues taught in the Dialogue program.  The steering committee grew into a larger working group that also included Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Judy Holzer Hersher, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Christopher Krueger (a Deputy Attorney General at the time), Ward Campbell, Heather Susan Candy, Thomas (“Tac”) Craven, Byron Gregory, Jean McEvoy, Andy Stroud, McClatchy teacher Ellen Wong, and Rio Americano teacher Sharon Gillum.

Robin Taylor, a member of OPD’s original steering committee and OPD’s first Executive Chair from 2002 to 2005, explained that OPD’s mission was based on the principle that “[c]ivic education is critical to maintain a democracy.”  As a result, Taylor continued, “there was no more important task than the development of an informed, effective, and responsible citizenry.”  Taylor, Judge Damrell, Judge Hersher, and many other individuals involved in starting OPD emphasized that OPD’s mission remains relevant and significant today.  As a trial judge, Judge Hersher sees first hand that “the paucity of civics education is alarming.”  Judge Hersher continued, “I think OPD is a tremendous program.  OPD has had an extremely positive impact on the schools that are participating.”

In its first year, OPD sent volunteers to John F. Kennedy High School, Luther Burbank High School, McClatchy High School, Rio Americano High School, and Sacramento High School to teach its Dialogue program.  OPD wanted to reach a diverse group of schools and also reach under-served populations, explained Heather Susan Candy, part of the working group that helped get OPD off the ground and OPD’s Executive Chair from 2005-2007.  Wong, who was also a member of OPD’s original steering committee, explained, OPD “is the most positive or the only positive experience students have with judges and lawyers.  Most students only engage with the judiciary for jury duty or if there is a problem.  The students get inspired by the judges and volunteer attorneys.”

OPD’s first curriculum was based on Mark Curriden’s Contempt of Court, which explored the impact of the United States Supreme Court decision to stay the execution of Ed Johnson, a young African American man who had been sentenced to death for rape.  After the United States Supreme Court issued a stay of Johnson’s execution, Johnson was murdered by a lynch mob in Tennessee that broke into the jail where Johnson was detained.  Curriden’s book was selected after he spoke at the Eastern District of California’s annual conference.

Alf Brandt, Senior Counsel to California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, became involved in OPD shortly after Judge Damrell’s April 2002 speech.  Brandt shared that since OPD’s founding, it focused on three components—the teacher-led curriculum, the Dialogue program, and the student essay contest.  Brandt headed OPD’s curriculum and Dialogue committees before becoming OPD’s Executive Chair in 2007, a position he held until 2009.  Brandt explained, “The key to OPD’s organization has always been the willingness of individuals to stand up and volunteer and say, ‘I’ll do that.’”  Under Brandt’s leadership, OPD became part of the Sacramento Law Foundation and adopted bylaws.  Though no longer on OPD’s board, Brandt still volunteers every year and taught three Dialogue classes this year.

Andy Stroud, OPD’s Executive Chair from 2009-2012 and partner at Hanson Bridgett, echoed Brandt’s sentiment regarding OPD’s volunteers— “The ‘can do’ spirit of OPD amazes me.  The board is made up of teachers, lawyers, and judges who all have day jobs and still commit so much of their time and effort to OPD.  It is really refreshing.”  Stroud explained that OPD has become “a fixture of the Sacramento legal community and something that the community takes prides in.”  The legal community’s support of OPD has been critical to its success, Stroud noted, and included support from organizations like the Asian/Pacific Bar Association of Sacramento (“ABAS”).  Administrative Law Judge Teri Block, OPD’s Executive Chair from 2012-2014, also emphasized the importance of support from the bar in OPD’s success.  Under Judge Block’s leadership, OPD partnered with the Sacramento Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, which helped provide volunteers, secure funding, and co-sponsored OPD’s law day dinner.

In 2010, OPD expanded and added an art contest in addition to its essay contest.  OPD’s art contest was the brainchild of Judge Hersher.  After chairing the essay contest, it became obvious to Judge Hersher over time that OPD was “missing out on a whole segment of students whose writing wasn’t their best talent and for whom art and music could get them excited about learning.”  Working closely with attorneys Kim Lewellen and Emily Hanselman, Judge Hersher reached out to art teachers at the schools where OPD was already teaching.  Like OPD’s essay contest, the art contest is based on OPD’s Dialogue program.  The student art pieces were showcased in a local Sacramento art gallery and the winners were selected by Judge Damrell, Judge Hersher, art professor Vallene Hardman, and a professional artist.  This provided the students with an opportunity to experience realistic art judging, which Judge Hersher explained was a critical component of the art contest.

Eastern District of California Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes, OPD’s Executive Chair from 2014-2016, noted that “you do not know what spark will connect with a kid,” and OPD can create that spark and has created that spark with the high school students in its program.  Stroud gave an example of this “spark,” sharing that he has met students who participated in OPD and later became lawyers.  Under Judge Barnes’ leadership and through the efforts of OPD board member Kathi Finnerty, OPD launched its website to reach more volunteers, teachers, and students.

To Andrea Fazel, a government teacher at Natomas Pacific Pathways Prep (“NP3”) who was also an OPD board member, the “most effective and most valuable part of OPD is the Dialogue and having members of the bench and bar meet with students.  It’s helpful for students to hear authentic and concrete things from members of the bench and bar.  While there are a lot of helpful materials for teachers to teach law-related issues, what is unique about OPD is the connection to the bench and bar for the students.”

Kelley Lincoln, OPD’s current Executive Chair and shareholder at Boutin Jones, shared that “we have the best group of volunteers,” which includes state and federal judges and attorneys, and private practitioners.  Lincoln has focused her energy on expanding OPD by teaching the Dialogue for the first time to a class of home-school students, which was arranged by Ninth Circuit Public Education and Community Outreach Administrator Kari Kelso, and encouraging the expansion of OPD into Fresno. Rio Americano teacher Linda Reed, who has been involved with OPD since the beginning, shared that “kids have felt very rewarded talking to attorneys and judges.”  Reed believes that OPD’s 2017 curriculum on the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066 had the biggest impact among the different Dialogue topics because of its timeliness and relevance to the Executive Orders of the current administration.

2017 OPD Dinner

Since its founding, OPD has hosted an annual Law Day Dinner to recognize local Sacramento-area high school student winners of OPD’s essay contest, and beginning in 2010, student winners of OPD’s art contest.  With over 225 people in attendance at OPD’s 2017 Annual Law Day Dinner held in May, OPD honored over 30 student winners of OPD’s essay and art contests, including Natomas Pacific Pathways Prep student, Ajit Rakhi, who performed his slam poetry piece entitled “History Repeats Itself.”

OPD Law Day Dinner Event 2017
OPD's 2017 student award winners, OPD board members, and OPD volunteers
Congresswoman Doris Matsui
Congresswoman Doris Matsui giving keynote address at OPD event
Student Award Winner
Student award winner, Ajit Rakhi, performing his slam poetry piece.

Claire, an OPD board member who also provides training for the Dialogue program to judge and attorney volunteers, served as the Master of Ceremonies.  The keynote speaker was United States Congresswoman Doris Matsui, who was born in a Japanese internment camp.[1]  Congresswoman Matsui shared her father’s persistent efforts to grow a flower in the dry desert of the camp, and how the flower that eventually grew and blossomed became a symbol of hope for the Japanese American community at the camp.  Judge Damrell gave closing remarks.  OPD’s Law Day Dinner was co-sponsored by the Sacramento County Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association, Federal Litigation Section, with additional sponsorship from many law firms, organizations, and individuals.

OPD’s 2017 Dialogue Program & 2017-2018 Fresno Expansion

OPD continues to grow and reach more local high school students.  In the last five years, OPD has added more than 10 classes.  In 2017, OPD’s volunteer judges and attorneys taught 62 classes at twelve Sacramento-area high schools:  Cordova, Elinor Hickey, Florin, George Washington Carver School of Arts & Science, Grant Union, John F. Kennedy, Luther Burbank, McClatchy, Natomas Charter, Natomas Pacific Pathways Prep, Rio Americano, and Sacramento High School.  For the first time, OPD also taught the Dialogue program to a class of home-school students during their visit to the federal courthouse. OPD is proud to announce that in the upcoming 2017-2018 academic year, it will be expanding into Fresno, which fulfills the founders’ goal of expanding beyond Sacramento area.  The Fresno expansion effort is being led by Eastern District of California District Judge Dale Drozd, First Assistant United States Attorney Phil Ferrari, OPD board member and Assistant United States Attorney Chi Soo Kim, and Fresno Assistant United States Attorney Alyson Berg, with the assistance of California Court of Appeal Justice Donald Franson, Fifth Appellate District, the Fresno County Civic Learning Partnership, attorney Michael Wilhelm, and retired educator Dr. John Minkler.  OPD is actively looking for volunteer judges and attorneys in Fresno, and interested volunteers should contact Chi Soo Kim at chi.soo.kim@usdoj.gov.


[1] “Internment camp” is a phrase used by Congresswoman Matsui and others referring to the detention of Japanese Americans pursuant to Executive Order 9066 in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II.

Past OPD Executive Chairs

  • Robin Taylor (2002 – 2005)
  • Heather Susan Candy (2005 – 2007)
  • Alf Brandt (2007 – 2009)
  • Andy Stroud (2009 – 2012)
  • Administrative Law Judge Teri Block (2012 – 2014)
  • U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes (2014 – 2016)

2017 OPD Board of Directors

  • Executive Chair, Kelley Lincoln
  • Secretary, Karli Eisenberg
  • Treasurer, Emma Siverson
  • Dialogue on America Director, June Coleman
  • Curriculum Director, Joseph Cress
  • Story of America Essay Contest Director, Scott Wyckoff
  • Modern Masters of America Director, Carmen-Nicole Cox
  • Fundraising Director, Adriana Cervantes
  • Multi-Media Projects Director, Kathleen Finnerty
  • Steering Committee DirectorsU.S. Magistrate Judge Allison Claire California Third District Court of Appeal Justice Elena Duarte Sacramento Superior Court Presiding Judge, Juvenile Division, Stacy Boulware Eurie Sacramento Superior Court Judge Jennifer Rockwell Chi Soo Kim Ellen Wong Law Day Dinner Director, Robyn Riedel

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Reflecting on his October 2001 speech and the start of Operation Protect and Defend, Judge Damrell shared, “In that speech I urged lawyers and judges to confront the widespread and profound ignorance which is eroding our understanding of our Constitution.  I felt it was time for lawyers and judges to both ‘protect and defend’ the very meaning of the United States of America. — I still do.”