Matthew (Mat) Zwerling
Image courtesy of the University of Rochester.

Matthew (Mat) Zwerling, co-founder of the First District Appellate Project (FDAP) and Executive Director for many years, passed away on March 24, 2022, after a long illness. We are saddened by the loss of our friend and colleague, and take this time to reflect on Mat’s life and the difference he made in the lives of so many. Mat was a mensch, a mentor, an activist, and a man of many and varied interests and talents.

After college and having been accepted to Stanford Medical School, Mat spent the summer of 1964 in Mississippi as a civil rights worker. When his friend Andrew Goodman, along with fellow civil rights workers James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, were murdered that summer, Mat chose a career in law instead of medicine. (Mat’s experiences in Mississippi during Freedom Summer are documented by the Rochester Review.) 

Upon his graduation from Yale Law School in 1968, Mat clerked for Judge J. Skelly Wright of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a judge well known for his desegregation orders. Following his clerkship, Mat worked as a public defender at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. Mat subsequently taught as a law professor at Catholic University in Washington and at the University of San Francisco School of Law in San Francisco.

In 1986, Mat assisted Bob Calhoun in founding FDAP, and for the first 12 of his 26 years at FDAP, served as Assistant Director. For the next 14 years, until his retirement in 2012, he served as Executive Director. Mat led the office in providing dedicated and unflinching representation of our clients and support and training for our panel attorneys. With his steady hand, Mat established FDAP in the broader legal community and with the judiciary as a preeminent provider of appellate representation to indigent clients. To a legion of attorneys and other legal professionals, many of whom are now leaders and experts in their field, Mat opened the door, took a chance on them, and then championed their growth and successes.

As a colleague, Mat was unfailingly kind, and generous with his time. Each day, he made it a practice to connect with attorneys and staff in small but meaningful ways. And Mat was a champion of working mothers and families and, as a result, babies were raised at FDAP and could be found at staff meetings or learning to crawl in the office hallways.

Through the years, Mat balanced his commitment to FDAP with his interests as a soccer referee, an electric bass player in a rock band, and an avid hiker. We extend our condolences to Mat’s wife Holly Veldhuis, his son Michael (Angela), and his grandchildren Theo and Clifford.  We also extend our condolences to FDAP Board Member Bob Calhoun, Mat’s hiking buddy, colleague, and great friend.

Later in the year, FDAP will co-host a memorial for Mat. If you would like to know more about our plans, email us at