The First Public Defender’s Office in the Country Was Born 100 Years Ago This January

Did you know that the Los Angeles Public Defender’s Office was the first of its kind in these United States of America?

Perhaps the first person to ever propose the creation of a public defender’s office anywhere in the country was Clara Shortridge Foltz, who by the way was the first woman admitted to the California State Bar and the first female prosecutor in the L.A. District Attorney’s Office. Foltz first proposed the idea of a public defender in a speech at The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and her steady lobbying, along with that of others, eventually moved the voters of Los Angeles to approve a county charter in 1913 that created the Office of the Public Defender. That charter was then ratified by the California Legislature, and in January 1914, the country’s first public-defense law firm opened its doors. In the beginning, the entire staff consisted of four deputies and a secretary. Today, they count a few more heads than that.

Americans owe their freedoms to many things, and we often take time to honor the people and ideas that secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and posterity. That make this great liberal experiment a more perfect union. That allow us to pursue happiness.

We may not, however, always or fully appreciate the value of the criminal-defense bar in general or the public-defense bar in particular. Put simply, there is no freedom without defense, and for the vast majority of Americans, there is no defense without our public-defense system. Oftentimes, it’s the public defenders’ offices that possess the wherewithal to litigate the legal issues that affect us all and push back against the encroachments on our freedom.

Come January, it’ll be nice to see the country’s first public defender’s office get more of the recognition it deserves.

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