indigent defense need-blind justice by Yarek Waszul

Illustration by Yarek Waszul

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This Thursday morning, a thoughtful and experienced panel will discuss how legal services are dispensed in Arizona. Here is part of the Law Day event announcement from the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education:

“At the Forum, Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch will discuss access to justice in Arizona; Karen Lash, Senior Counsel of Access to Justice for the U.S. Department of Justice, will offer a national perspective; Hon. Lawrence Winthrop will recap the results of input from regional forums; a panel of experts will share some best practices from around the state; and Vice-Chief Justice Scott Bales will wrap up with the closing remarks.”

I will attend and report to you what was said. I am curious if any new initiatives are part of the conversation (such as an Indigent Defense Commission, which I discussed previously). And it would be helpful to hear about some successful best practices from elsewhere in the country.

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.