PITTSBURGH (Newsradio 1020 KDKA) – It’s been 50-years since the decision of Gideon vs. Wainwright, the Supreme Court ruling that established everyone has a right to counsel. For those that cannot afford an attorney, one is appointed for them –a public defender.
Dawn Porter is a documentary filmmaker who directed and produced the award-winning “Gideon’s Army” after meeting with Jonathan Rapping, founder of Gideon’s Promise, a training center in the deep south for young public defenders. “Gideon’s Army” follows the stories of three lawyers in that program.
Porter stressed the importance of the program and public defenders, “Twelve million people are arrested in America every year. About five million of those cases go forward, and 80-percent of those cases are represented by public defenders. So there’s only about 15,000 public defenders, so the cases just keep going up and up and up.”
Public defenders usually have a bad reputation, “public pretenders” and “prison deliverers” are just some of the nicknames this position carries. Porter felt it was important to shed some light on the good people, the good lawyers who are public defenders.
“When I met these young lawyers, they were talking about The Constitution, they were talking about helping people, and they’re bright people, young people who could do anything. They could become one of those high-paid corporate lawyers and instead, they’re going back to do a job that doesn’t get a lot of respect.”