Larry Hammond speaks at the State Bar Board of Governors meeting, Oct. 25, 2013

Larry Hammond speaks at the State Bar Board of Governors meeting, Oct. 25, 2013

At the most recent meeting of the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Arizona, attorney Larry Hammond rose to shed light on a vital issue: legal representation for those who cannot afford it.

He is the chair of the Indigent Defense Task Force, and on October 25, he asked the board to form a State Indigent Defense Commission. It would be charged with examining that intractable problem and suggesting solutions.

How intractable? Well, as Larry noted, we are in the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright and we’re still wrestling with it.

In fact, I wonder how much has changed since the issuance of noteworthy reports like Gideon’s Broken Promise: America’s Continuing Quest for Equal Justice” (2003) and Gideon Undone: The Crisis in Indigent Defense Funding” (1982)?

(All of that, and more, are available on an ABA page dedicated to studies of the indigent defense system in the United States.)

Here is one of the things Larry said to the Governors in his appeal to create a commission:

“It is not just the duty of defense lawyers and victim advocates. We all must believe that competent, adequately funded representation is a part of all of our jobs.”

Do you agree?

I’ve invited Larry to write something for Arizona Attorney Magazine on the topic, both the crisis and the recommended response. I’ll keep you informed.

Clarence Earl Gideon

Clarence Earl Gideon

March 18, 1963, was the date on which the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of a petitioner who was also a Florida convict. And through that ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright, Clarence Gideon initiated a sea change in American law.

Monday, of course, will be the 50th anniversary of the ruling, and we still marvel at the change he wrought: It embedded the legal cornerstone that a criminal defendant who cannot afford to hire a lawyer must be provided with an attorney at no cost. It could be argued that no single decision has more affected the ability of defendants to achieve fairness in legal proceedings.

So impressive was the result that it received a shout-out at a Phoenix event yesterday. I will write later about the continued success of the annual Learned Hand Awards luncheon. But at Wednesday’s event, Arizona Justice Scott Bales, emcee for the festivities, took a moment to mark the Gideon anniversary and to praise public defenders and all those who represent the indigent. Exactly right.

In honor of the anniversary, the American Bar Association Section of Litigation has created a resource page exploring Gideon’s legacy. Included on the page is a reproduction of the actual hand-written petition that Clarence Gideon drafted in a Florida prison. It is worth a read.

Also included is a video capturing a January panel discussion regarding Gideon. It is quite good, and I have posted it below. But among its gems is its replaying a 1964 CBS News piece on Gideon, the man and the case. It begins at 2:40 and runs to 13:03, and you should watch every minute.

Is your agency, firm or organization recognizing Gideon in any way on the 50th anniversary? Let me know.