This chapter describes Progressive Era debates within the legal profession over proposals to establish a “public defender” in the criminal courts—a public official who would represent criminal defendants and counterbalance the public prosecutor. It describes different versions of the public defender idea, as developed by California lawyer Clara Foltz, New York lawyer Mayer Goldman, and the prominent Massachusetts lawyer Reginald Heber Smith, author of Justice and the Poor. Leaders of the bar, often affiliated with corporate law firms, expressed concerns that the public defender represented a step towards socialization of the legal profession. Instead, they preferred to handle indigent defense and other forms of legal aid through private charity. In 1917, New York lawyers rejected proposals for a government-controlled public defender and instead established a criminal branch of the Legal Aid Society.
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