County of Marin - News Releases - Public Defense Day

For Immediate Release
March 18, 2016

Public Defender Staff Marks Important Anniversary

Gideon v. Wainwright decision celebrated on National Public Defense Day

San Rafael, CA –  On the eve of National Public Defense Day, Marin County Public Defender Jose Varela shared some inspirational quotes with his staff, including this one from famous Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black: “There can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has.”

Marin County Public Defender Jose VarelaMarin County Public Defender Jose Varela
National Public Defense Day, marked annually on March 18, denotes the anniversary of a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision called Gideon v. Wainwright. Clarence Gideon, a Florida drifter who represented himself because he couldn’t afford a lawyer, was convicted on a felony breaking-and-entering charge and had a subsequent petition denied by the Florida Supreme Court. After considering Gideon’s hand-written petition, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the state had to provide defense counsel for an indigent client as assured by the Sixth Amendment. Gideon was retried with a public defender and acquitted.

Varela, a County employee since 2001 and the Public Defender since 2010, said many point to the seminal Gideon case as the birth of the public defense movement, “but history shows that Gideon’s right to counsel pronouncement was part of a series of cases the Supreme Court decided throughout the 20th century, each case recognizing the right of individuals to access to justice in our democracy.”

National Public Defense Day is celebrated most heartily by public defenders, legal aid lawyers, investigators, and support staff who play an integral part in the representation of indigent clients in criminal and civil courts.

“Unlike other Public Defender offices in other counties, our people stay with us for many years,” Varela said. “Our staff is incredibly committed to doing the work here in Marin. Some people facing misdemeanor charges are being represented in court by people with 10-15-20 years of dedicated defense work. The people of Marin enjoy a stable cadre of our staff who give their clients invaluable experience.”

The Gideon anniversary reminds all residents that if American society is expected to remain a democracy, everyone should participate in protecting justice, no matter who they are, where they came from and whether they can afford it or not.

“As a community public defender office, we are acutely aware that individual rights exist if they are asserted and protected,” Varela said. “The burden falls on all of us to carry out the duty assigned to us in an ethical, competent, and collaborative fashion.”    


Jose Varela
Public Defender
County of Marin

Marin County Civic Center
3501 Civic Center Drive
Suite 139
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 473-6321
Email: Jose Varela
Public Defender website