History of the Public Defender

Clara Shortridge FoltzIn 1893, the idea of the Public Defender’s office was presented by Clara Shortridge Foltz, the first female attorney in California.  This, then radical, idea was presented at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.  Foltz went on to become the foremother of today's public defenders system. 

In 1914, due to Foltz' lobbying, Los Angeles County opened the nation’s first Public Defender’s Office. A few years later, in 1921, the lawmakers of California extended the public defender system (the right to appointed counsel) to all state courts.

However, the law of the land was still not clear on who was to pay for the defense of the indigent.

Clarence GideonOn August 4, 1961, in Panama City, Florida, Clarence Gideon was convicted of breaking and entering with intent to commit petty larceny.  Because he was too poor to hire an attorney, he defended himself at trial.

In 1962, after being denied by the court free counsel in his criminal case, Mr. Gideon wrote to the US Supreme Court requesting review of this decision.  In 1963, the US Supreme Court decided Gideon v. Wainright stating that individuals charged with felonies had the constitutional right to counsel paid for by the state. 

The Court later expanded this rule to people charged with misdemeanors and juvenile matters.

On November 4, 1968, Solano County opened the doors of the Office of the Public Defender.  Five lawyers, two investigators and three secretaries closed 966 cases in the first six months of operation.  In 1989 the Office of the Conflict Defender was established and the two offices were consolidated under the administration of the Public Defender in 2000.  The office of the Conflict Defender is now called the Alternate Public Defender’s Office.

At this time, the Solano County Public Defender Offices have a dedicated, combined staff of 49 Defense Attorneys, 9.5 Investigators, 17.5 Clerical, 3 part-time Social Workers and 2 part-time Paralegals.  The combined offices work hard to represent nearly 19, 000 clients per year.  The Public Defender Office ensures the residents of the County of Solano are provided their Constitutional right to effective legal representation when charged with a crime and are unable to afford retained counsel.