This Friday, March 18th, marks the 53rd anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, and the first nationwide celebration of Public Defense Day. CPCS is joining the National Association for Public Defense (NAPD), Gideon’s Promise, and other indigent defense organizations across the county in a social media campaign to celebrate and commemorate the event. As we all know, Gideon v Wainwright is the U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision that created a right to counsel for people too poor to afford to hire a lawyer. Our campaign is designed to highlight the important and excellent work that everyone in the CPCS indigent defense community does every day on behalf of our clients in both criminal and civil cases. Whether we are a CPCS lawyer, investigator, social worker or social service advocate, a member of the CPCS staff, or private counsel, we are all “public defenders” on #PublicDefenseDay; we all fight against injustice, abuse of power, and inequality; and we all fight for people, seeing and affirming their human dignity and value, and vindicating their legal and human rights.
As Jonathan Rapping of Gideon’s Promise reminds us, “Public Defenders are on the front lines of today’s greatest civil right struggles.” Often these struggles take the form of routine injustices: jailing people for failure to pay fines, losing jobs because of an open case, having a family broken up by unwarranted state intervention, racial profiling by police, involuntary confinement on a mental health commitment, and more. While spectacular injustices like the ones portrayed in the Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer” often dominate the discussion about criminal justice, we want to remind people about what we see every day. On #PublicDefenseDay let’s show people that we are not just witnesses to those injustices, but that we are fighting them.
The main campaign is via social media. We encourage you to tell social media about our work using the hash tags #PublicDefenseDay and #TippingTheScales. Below are ideas of what you could post to celebrate and raise awareness about #PublicDefenseDay:
- On March 18th, post stories about the times you or someone you work with tipped the scales and justice was done for your client.
- This week, staff at the Legal Aid Society in New York and other organizations will be posting photos of themselves (a.k.a. selfies) with placards showing written messages that describe why they do the work they do and why the role of public defender is so critical.
- Stories that humanize our clients and that help to illustrate that the people we represent are not the stereotypes that are often depicted in the media.
Also, friend NAPD on Facebook or follow them on Twitter to see pictures, graphics, and posts as we countdown the days to our first annual #PublicDefenseDay.
This campaign is just the start of a coordinated effort to change the local and national conversation about public defense. We invite and encourage you to use #PublicDefenseDay as a chance to show your friends, family, colleagues, clients, and the world why and how our work matters. At a time when the public defender work of a potential Supreme Court nominee was used as part of a negative campaign, our message is more important than ever!