Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez, 2018 Pa’Lante Award Honoree

Carlos J. Martinez
Carlos J. Martinez

Carlos J. Martinez, a native of Cuba, has dedicated his professional life to public service, using his legal talents in service of the poor.

Arriving to Miami from Cuba on a 1969 Freedom Flight, he learned the meaning of hard work and determination at an early age. At 16, Carlos was hired as a car wash attendant at an Exxon station on Calle Ocho. Within three years, Carlos was simultaneously managing six gas stations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. He worked full-time to pay for his undergraduate college education. He attended Miami-Dade College, the University of Texas-Austin and graduated from Florida International University with a B.A. in Political Science in 1985. In 1990, Carlos received his J.D. from the University of Miami.

He was elected public defender in 2008, and re-elected in 2012 and 2016 without opposition. Carlos is the first Cuban-American Public Defender and the only elected Hispanic Public Defender in the U.S. As Public Defender, Carlos manages an office of approximately 400 employees, handling approximately 75,000 cases each year.

Carlos has often stated that “fighting for individual rights and equal justice, for the downtrodden, the despised, the voiceless and the invisible, has not just given me great professional satisfaction, it has given meaning to my life.” This dedication to his cause has made him a tireless advocate for immigrant rights in Miami-Dade.


Cheryl Little, Esq.
Cheryl Little has been a tireless advocate for immigrant rights for over three decades and has established herself as one of this country’s leading experts in the immigration field. She is the co-founder of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, Inc. (FIAC), now Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice), and serves as its Executive Director. She has received numerous honors and awards for her work, and has authored many publications in the area of immigration, including law review articles and reports. She has testified many times before Congress and appears regularly on television. Her appearances include 60 Minutes, Nightline, PBS’s News Hour, Frontline, The Oprah Winfrey Show and CNN.