County of Marin - News Releases - National Public Defense Week

For Immediate Release
March 19, 2018

Changing Times for Public Defenders

Human efforts toward sustainable change noted during Public Defense Week

San Rafael, CA – During National Public Defense Week (March 18-25), Marin County Public Defender Jose H. Varela is reflecting how much the role of public defenders has changed in recent years.

Shortly after the tide-turning Gideon v. Wainwright decision 55 years ago that drastically improved the rights of those accused of crimes, public defense only focused on legal matters.

“Now, public defense is being asked to provide answers to questions that once were left to others,” Varela said. “How do we deal with the addicted individual in our community or jails? How do we address the needs of the mentally ill who now are served by jails? How do we help people put their criminal history behind them?” 

National Public Defense Day is marked annually on March 18, the anniversary of the day when the Gideon decision came down in 1963. It was on that day that the right to counsel was deemed “fundamental and necessary” by the nation’s highest court.

In Marin County, the collaborative criminal justice system works to support people in dealing with chronic conditions that keep them from leading independent and free lives. Those working in public defense, legal aid, investigations, and in support roles play an integral part in the representation of indigent clients. From the Marin County Sheriff’s Reentry Team to the Homeless Outreach Team to the Probation Department staff and case managers, partners help public defenders provide real and sustainable changes for clients.

The County’s Criminal Justice Behavioral Health Committee brings together criminal justice and community partners to collaborate on tough problems of people whose underlying mental illness or substance abuse creates a revolving door in and out of the courts and jail. A new County initiative called Stepping Up has the Sheriff, Health and Human Services, Probation, District Attorney and Public Defender working to create more efficient and sustainable response to vexing social problems.  

“When collaborative justice works, real freedom happens,” Varela said.

Varela said public defense is moving toward human efforts at sustainable change.

“Such focus begins with a vision that a criminal justice system can provide accountability while at the same time providing the hope of community reintegration for clients and families,” he said. “National Public Defense Week highlights one aspect of our vibrant Bill of Rights, the right to counsel, but what public defenders in Marin now do in the criminal justice system involves so much more, as one would expect when a community works together.”


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