A Brief History of the Public Defender

The Santa Barbara County Public Defender

The Santa Barbara office was created in 1969 at about the time that many other Public Defender Offices were created nationally. This was in response to the United States Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright 372 U.S. 335 (1963). In Gideon it was held that anyone facing the potential for significant incarceration if convicted of a criminal charge has the right to a free lawyer should they not be able to hire one themselves. While this idea was not new to California, the publicity of the case created a dramatic increase in the number of defendants asking for lawyers and counties around the state and across the nation rushed to make use of long-standing laws allowing the creation of such offices. (Eventually the facts of that case became a movie called Gideon's Trumpet starring Henry Fonda.)

The Underpinnings of Public Defender Programs in the U.S.

The roots of our Nation's public defender programs lie in the fertile soil of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. We should all read and absorb these documents. They are not long, and they can all be found here, along with links to other important milestones in the history of individual rights to legal representation.

Clara Shortridge Foltz: Midwife of the Public Defender Movement

Read the fascinating story of Clara Foltz, one of the most important and almost certainly the most under-appreciated women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; the unsung pioneer of women's rights, arrestee's rights, prisoner's rights; the first woman lawyer in California, and a pioneering businesswoman. An unbelievably talented and resilient lady who overcame interminable obstacles and unspeakable prejudice to achieve goals for women and the underprivileged that we now take for granted; to her we all owe a huge debt of gratitude. Little has been written of this historic woman, but we have here a comprehensively researched scholarly paper from the Hastings Law Journal(1976) and a second less formal article, published in the California Defender Magazine in 1985, containing extended excerpts from the Hastings paper along with interesting passages from Foltz' own writings.

Read them online:

The Battles of Clara Shortridge Foltz Originally published in the California Defender, Vol. 1, Issue 1; Spring 1985

Clara Shortridge Foltz: Pioneer in the Law Originally Published in the Hastings Law Journal, Vol. 27, January 1976

Or, download PDF versions for local viewing or printing:

The California Defender Article in PDF

The Hastings Law Journal Article in PDF