Kasha K. Castillo
Kasha Castillo is the Executive Director for Federal Defenders of San Diego. She has been in this role since 2021. Before becoming the Executive Director, Kasha was the Director of Training and a member of Senior Management. Kasha has been an AFPD since 2000. Kasha has been in a supervisory role since 2004. She has spent her career representing indigent clients in all stages of federal prosecution. Kasha is an accomplished trial attorney. She has tried numerous federal jury trials ranging from large-scale drug offenses, fraud, sex-trafficking, gun offenses, immigration offenses, alien smuggling, and assault. Kasha is experienced in all aspects of a federal criminal defense, including pre-trial motions, evidentiary hearings, and trials.
Kasha has dedicated her career to providing yearly training to Federal Defenders and the CJA panel. In 2021, Kasha created a week-long, new attorney training program for newly selected CJA attorneys. She was also part of a team that created the California Regional Training Program: The Fundamental Art of Trial Skills. This was a week-long program designed for new California Federal Defenders. Kasha also oversees training for the attorneys in her office, including yearly work on the New Attorney training program and All Attorney training seminars. Kasha routinely participates as faculty in national training programs such as the Trial Skills Academy hosted by the Office of Defender Services, Orientation for New Defenders hosted by the Federal Judiciary Center, and NITA trial skills program. Kasha has also served as an adjunct professor at California Western School of law where she taught various courses on trial skills.
Kasha earned her B.A. in Criminal Justice with a Minor in Psychology from the University of Portland. She received her J.D. from the University of San Diego.
Michelle Betancourt began her legal career as a trial attorney with Federal Defenders in 2001. She joined the office after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, and earning her law degree from the University of California, Davis, Martin Luther King School of Law. During her first nine years as a trial attorney, Michelle aggressively litigated and tried a wide array of cases including possession of firearms, drug importation, conspiracy, fraud, tax evasion, assault, illegal reentry, false statements, and transportation of aliens. She also argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals four times. Although mentoring fellow attorneys was always part of her work, Michelle was formally promoted to trial team leader/supervisory attorney in 2009. In the role of supervisory attorney, Michelle focused on training newer attorneys and furthering the mission of FDSDI which is to best serve the interests of all clients by providing the highest quality representation available anywhere. In addition to her duties as trial team leader, Michelle took on additional leadership duties outside her team when she oversaw the El Centro office, worked as the bond unit liaison, and met regularly with the Court on various issues impacting FDSDI. Throughout her time as trial team leader, Michelle continued her calling as a trial attorney—ultimately trying a total of 83 cases. Because of her longstanding contributions and dedication to FDSDI, in February of 2023, Michelle was selected as First Assistant and now works alongside the Executive Director overseeing the daily operations and management of the office.
Deke Falls joined Federal Defenders as a trial attorney in 2012. Deke came to FDSDI after running his own law firm in Charlotte, North Caroline and sitting on the board of directors for the Federal Defenders of Western District of North Carolina. In recognition of his experience and excellence in trial advocacy, Deke was named Senior Litigator in 2019, and then promoted to Chief Trial Attorney in 2020. In his current position, Deke oversees the advocacy component of the office at the trial level and mentors other trial attorneys.
Gina Watanabe came to this office from the Federal Community Defender for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania where she started as an Administrative Secretary in 2007, was promoted to Administrative Assistant in 2017 and managed the travel, procurement, and administrative operations of the Trial and Capital Habeas units.
Gina joined Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc. in 2021, bringing fundamental knowledge of Federal Defender Organization operations and a passion to serve the indigent accused in the Southern District of California. In her capacity as Administrative Officer, she oversees the finance, information technology, and human resource operations of FDSDI. Gina has earned a Master of Business Administration from Temple University’s Fox School of Business, providing excellence and quality leadership to the Federal Defenders of San Diego.
Vincent J. Brunkow
Vincent J. Brunkow is the Chief Appellate Attorney at Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc. Vince received his undergraduate degree from UCLA and his J.D. from the University of San Diego. He has been with Federal Defenders for over twenty-five years, serving as a trial attorney, an appellate attorney, and as the Chief of the appellate unit since 2012. He has argued numerous times before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, including four en banc panels, and has participated in the merits and amicus briefing of several Supreme Court cases. Vince was honored as the Appellate Attorney of the Year in 2012 by the San Diego Criminal Defense Bar Association and received the 2020 Paul Bell Award for excellence in representation of the indigent accused on appeal.
Norma Aguilar is the Training Director at Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc. She began working at Federal Defenders after graduating from Berkeley Law School in 2000. As the Training Director, Norma helps develop and develop various substantive law and skills-based training programs. Norma has taught at national conferences on a variety of substantive federal law issues. She is a faculty member with the National Criminal Defense College and the Trial Skills Academy program offered by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Norma is a fluent-Spanish speaker and has taught at various Spanish-language trial skills programs in the United States, Mexico and Argentina. Before becoming the Training Director, Norma was a Trial Team Leader. In that capacity, she helped guide and mentor newer attorneys while litigating her own cases. She has tried various types of federal offenses from immigration, drug, sex-trafficking, fraud and others. Norma has argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals seven times.
Elizabeth M. Barros
Elizabeth Barros graduated from UCLA Law School, where she completed the Program in Public Interest Law and Policy and a Concentration in Critical Race Studies. Upon graduating from law school, she joined Federal Defenders of San Diego in 2003. In 2010, she was recognized by the Daily Transcript through a peer-nomination process as one of the best young attorneys in San Diego County. Elizabeth was promoted to her current position of Supervisory Attorney/ Trial Team Leader in 2012.
Elizabeth was drawn to Federal Defenders because of her passion for defending immigrants and the criminally accused. Elizabeth has found opportunities to pursue impact litigation, while serving the interests of individual clients. For example, she has litigated equal protection issues involving derivative and acquired citizenship and due process challenges to systemic delays in competency restoration for clients living with mental illnesses. A highlight of her career was developing an equal protection challenge to our country’s citizenship laws, which was eventually argued before the Supreme Court.
Timothy Garrison is a Supervisory Attorney and Trial Team Leader at Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc. where he oversees and mentors a team of 7 to 9 trial attorneys of all skill levels. Tim graduated magna cum laude from the University of San Diego with Bachelor’s Degrees in History and English. He then obtained his Juris Doctorate cum laude, also from the University of San Diego.
In 2003, Tim began his legal career in private practice before joining Federal Defenders as a trial attorney in 2005. In 2019, he was promoted to the position of Supervisory Attorney. Over the course of his career, Tim has defended people charged with federal offenses related to drug trafficking, immigration, firearms and other federal crimes. In addition to his supervisory duties, Tim continues to maintain his own caseload.
Since 2016, Tim has overseen and coordinated the production of eDiscovery between the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California and Federal Defenders of San Diego Inc. In 2018, Tim became the chairperson of the office’s internal ethics committee. He has trained nationally and locally on various issues related to federal criminal defense including technology in the legal profession, narcotics/human detector dogs, and unknowing drug couriers.
Leila W. Morgan
Leila Morgan is a Supervisory Attorney and Trial Team Leader at Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc. where she oversees and mentors a team of 7 to 9 trial attorneys of all skill levels. Leila joined FDSDI in 2004 as a trial attorney and has spent the past two decades defending clients charged with a wide range of federal felonies, including drug trafficking, sex trafficking, firearms offenses, assault and immigration offenses. Leila is a proud member of the original team tasked with battling the District’s outrageous “Operation Streamline” program in the summer of 2018. Leila has worked extensively with the collaborative courts in the District, representing clients in both the Veteran’s Diversion and APS Diversion Programs. Since 2023, Leila has served as the Diversion Coordinator for FDSDI. Leila graduated summa cum laude from Central Methodist University with Bachelor’s Degrees in Ethics and Criminal Justice, and her Juris Doctorate cum laude from Fordham University School of Law.
Ana Martinez began working at Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc. in 2008 as a staff interpreter. In 2019, she became Chief Interpreter of the department, where she supervises 10 other staff interpreters. She continues to frequently work alongside the attorneys, accompanying them to client visits, and working on transcription and translation assignments. She is certified by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts as a federal court interpreter, and she is a member of the American Translators Association. Ana was born in Argentina and grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, but her academic education largely took place in the United States. She obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish Language and Culture, and a Master’s Degree in Latin American Literature, both from San Diego State University. Before joining FDSDI, she taught both high school and college-level Spanish classes. Her professional interests are varied. Early in her career, she interpreted for speakers presented by Amnesty International, and visitors from several countries who came to the U.S. to present topics relating to human rights. In the past, she has worked providing translations for San Diego Opera, The San Diego Natural History Museum, the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Photographic Arts, and the New Children’s Museum, among others.
Sandra Riley joined Federal Defenders in 2009 as an assistant paralegal. In that role, she provided multiple attorneys with secretarial and paralegal support on trial and appellate cases. In 2019, Sandra became the Supervisory Administrative Assistant. She supervises the paralegal assistants and provides legal assistant support to attorneys on cases. Sandra also works directly with the Administrative Officer on administrative and management matters where needed. Sandra has over 25 years of experience in the legal field, in both private and public sectors.