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Remembering Gideon

On the White Collar Crime Prof Blog, Lawrence Goldman had a notable post marking this month’s 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court’s decision that guaranteed legal counsel in criminal cases to indigent defendants.

Public defenders ‘deserve plaudits for their dedication and hard work in representing the poor and often despised,’ Goldman said.

But he also gave another group of lawyers a well-deserved shout out.

He said,

To me, however, the unsung heroes of the defense bar are those private lawyers who ably and diligently represent persons of modest income who are not poor enough to be provided free counsel by the state, but poor enough not to be able to pay substantial legal fees. Those lawyers, like public defenders, work in difficult situations and under difficult conditions. They often have no steady income, no employer-provided retirement or health benefits and sometimes no office. They do not have readily available ancillary services, such as advisory counsel, investigators, social workers and mitigation specialists. Often, they have to perform those functions themselves.

*     *     *

On the topic of Gideon v. Wainwright, Anthony Lewis, author of the bestseller about the case, Gideon’s Trumpet, died Monday. He was 85.

Lewis, who won two Pulitzer Prizes, was a reporter and columnist for the New York Times (he also had a short stint at the Washington Daily News).

His 1964 book about the Gideon case has never been out of it print. It was one of the most influential works ever published about the American criminal justice system, inspiring countless men and women to become lawyers for all the right reasons.

Lewis’ law-related reporting and commentary was so respected that he was often referred to as the Supreme Court’s ’10th Justice.’

In an obituary in the New Republic, Hendrik Hertzberg said,

‘Tony Lewis knew more about the Constitution and the laws, their history and meaning, than the vast majority of Supreme Court Justices, let alone lawyers. In 1956, James Reston, the Times’s legendary Washington bureau chief, had sent Lewis back to Cambridge for a year’s study at Harvard Law School on a Nieman fellowship. He learned well. Justice Felix Frankfurter would tell Reston that “there are not two Justices of this Court who have such a grasp of these cases.” And Lewis, unlike all but a few Justices, could write. He was occasionally cited in the Court’s opinions, but think of the ones he might have written himself!’

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