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Beyond The Balance Sheet Podcast

Aug 4, 2021

Elizabeth Kelley is a criminal defense lawyer with a nationwide practice specializing in representing people with mental illness and intellectual/developmental disabilities. She built her practice integrating both criminal defense and mental illness because she firmly believes those with mental disabilities do not belong in the criminal justice system, and jail and prison are not treatment. Elizabeth discusses the range of people with all different types of mental and intellectual disabilities she represents in her practice, the detrimental effects the criminal justice system has on people with mental disabilities, and the lack of programs and resources for these individuals. 



  • [01:38] How Elizabeth started in law and within her speciality. 
  • [10:09] The variety of ways Elizabeth is approached by different clients for cases.
  • [13:16] The criminal justice system is the worst place for a person with mental disabilities. Proving to be destructive to that individual and their mental health.  
  • [15:39] Elizabeth’s overall observations of the criminal justice system. 
  • [19:36] There is a nationwide shortage of appropriate resources, services and providers for offenders. In addition, many programs may have exclusions to which people can join.
  • [23:29] Has Elizabeth seen facilities that have “locked down” or forcible options demonstrate  success with somebody who has behavioral health issues? 
  • [29:14] One case that was especially influential in Elizabeth’s career.



  • As an attorney, Elizabeth serves a wide range of individuals with mental and intellectual disabilities, ranging from bipolar and schizophrenia to autism and fetal alcohol syndrome. 
  • The legal system is becoming more aware of the fact that people with mental disabilities should be diverted out of the system, and the current punishments to people with mental illnesses are inappropriate and, in some cases, destructive to that individual.
  • In the cases that Elizabeth deals with, they often require a team of different experts, specialists and resources, which can often create another obstacle for the client and family in an already difficult situation.
  • It’s important for individuals with mental or intellectual disabilities to have representation that will work for them and their disability.



Elizabeth Kelley Website 





I am a criminal defense lawyer with a nationwide practice focused on representing people with mental disabilities. 

My family settled in the Palouse Country of Washington Territory in 1872. I was born and raised in Spokane and I returned to the Inland Northwest in 2012.

My experience includes:

  • Co-chairing the Criminal Justice Advisory Panel of The Arc's National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability.
  • Editing of Representing People with Mental Disabilities: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers (American Bar Association 2018) and Representing People with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers (American Bar Association 2020).
  • Serving on the Council of the ABA's Criminal Justice Section as well as on the Editorial Board of the Criminal Justice Section Magazine.
  • Serving on the ABA's Commission on Disability Rights.
  • Serving as a Non-Governmental Observer on behalf of the ABA of the Military Commission Hearings at Guantanomo. 
  • Serving three terms on the board of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), chairing its Mental Health as well as Membership Committees, serving on the Problem-Solving Courts and Body Camera Task Forces, and becoming a Life Member.
  • Traveling to Liberia in 2009 and 2014 as part of a delegation sponsored by the U.N. Commission on Drugs and Crime and NACDL to train that country's criminal defense bar.
  • Lecturing across the U.S. as well as abroad on representing people with mental disabilities and frequently providing commentary for radio and television.
  • Serving as President of The Spokane Symphony, as well as the boards of The Arc of Spokane and the Museum of Arts and Culture (The MAC).
  • Completing my 200 hour and 500 hour Yoga certification.