Skip to main content
×
×
Home

“An Honest But Fearless Fighter”: The Adversarial Ideal of Public Defenders in 1930s and 1940s Los Angeles

  • Sara Mayeux
Extract

Early one Sunday in 1948, Frederic Vercoe set out from his home in San Marino, California, for a speaking engagement in downtown Los Angeles. Perhaps he took the Arroyo Seco Parkway, which had opened for drivers 8 years before, linking the city more tightly with its “vast agglomerate of suburbs.” Although the roads may have changed, Vercoe had been making some version of this commute for decades. He had recently retired after a long career with the Los Angeles County Public Defender—13 years as a deputy, followed by 19 years as head of the office—and now maintained a small private law practice downtown. Many mornings, Vercoe would have had business at the Hall of Justice, the ten-story box of “gray California granite” that housed the jails and courtrooms. On this particular morning, he was headed instead to Clifton's Cafeteria at Seventh Street and Broadway. Perhaps, as he drove the dozen miles west into the city, he admired the “geraniums, cosmos, sweet peas, asters and marigolds” that lined the “gardens, parkways, and driveways,” or perhaps he was used to the foliage by now. Vercoe had lived in California for more than 30 years, making him, by West Coast standards, a real “old-timer.”

Copyright
Corresponding author
Footnotes
Hide All

For feedback on drafts of this article or helpful conversations, she thanks Barbara Babcock, Felice Batlan, Jim Campbell, Bob Gordon, Sally Gordon, Joanna Grisinger, Martha Jones, Elizabeth Katz, Amalia Kessler, Sophia Lee, Serena Mayeri, Mary Mitchell, Jack Rakove, and Dan Sharfstein, as well as Gautham Rao and the anonymous reviewers for Law and History Review. This article benefited from presentations to the University of Michigan Legal History Workshop and the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities, and from the assistance of the law librarians at The University of Pennsylvania and Vanderbilt law schools. Research assistance was provided by Jordyn McCarley and C. Alexander Peyton.

Footnotes
References
Hide All

1. For San Marino address, see correspondence in Box 7, Folder: Forms—Misc; Box 7, Folder: House Data; and Box 8, Folder: 1947—Current Dictation; “Fredric H. Vercoe Presented With Farewell Scroll,” San Marino Tribune, November 28, 1946, clipping in Box 9; all in the Frederic H. Vercoe Papers (Collection 725), Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles (hereafter Vercoe Papers). The Vercoe collection is partially processed, and materials remain in their original file folders apparently as Vercoe arranged them, mingled with personal effects and ephemera. Where possible, I identify the location of materials by the label on the file folder.

2. Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration, Los Angeles in the 1930s: The WPA Guide to the City of Angels, Reissue edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011 [originally published 1941]), 6; see also Chandler, Raymond, The High Window (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1988 [originally published 1942]), 24 (character describes taking “the Arroyo Seco” from Pasadena “back toward the city”). I thank David Ebershoff, via Joanna Grisinger, for assistance with literary references.

3. “Public Defender Fred Vercoe Retires From County Post Tomorrow,” Los Angeles Daily Journal, October 31, 1946, clipping in Box 9, Vercoe Papers.

4. Federal Writers Project, Los Angeles in the 1930s, 148–49.

5. Ibid., 21.

6. Ibid., 3–4 (“People who have lived here a dozen years are likely to regard themselves as old-timers … Length of residence in Los Angeles often replaces the weather as a conversation-starter”). This was a subject of wry humor; see Chandler, The High Window, 118 (“I've been around this town a long time, more than fifteen years”).

7. Federal Writers Project, Los Angeles in the 1930s, xlvi, 160.

8. “SMBC Alarm Clock,” January 25, 1948, Box 8, Folder: Current Dictation—1947—Vercoe, Vercoe Papers; Mertice E. Taylor to Frederic H. Vercoe, January 21, 1948, Box 8, Folder: Current Dictation—1947—Vercoe, Vercoe Papers.

9. Example appearances located by conducting a ProQuest search of the Los Angeles Times’ event pages include the weekly luncheon of the Unity Republican Club (March 8, 1934); the Friday Morning Club (presenting report on parole reform) (November 5, 1934); “Defense of the Accused,” as part of a series on “Crime and the Law” at the Central Library (February 11, 1935); and the Hollenbeck Ebell Women's Club (speaking on “Defense in Criminal Cases”) (March 6, 1935). Vercoe's papers contain 1947–48 notes for a speech with handwritten notations listing scheduled appearances at the Unitarian Church 20–40 Club; Sunday Morning Breakfast Club, Clifton's Cafeteria; DAR Women's University Club; and the First Methodist Church, Pasadena, Young People's Class. “Counsel for the Defense,” 1947–48, Box 4, Folder: Public Defender Speech, Vercoe Papers.

10. “Counsel for the Defense,” 6.

11. Grossberg, Michael, “The Politics of Professionalism: The Creation of Legal Aid and the Strains of Political Liberalism in America, 1900–1930,” in Lawyers and the Rise of Western Political Liberalism: Europe and North America from the Eighteenth to Twentieth Centuries, ed. Halliday, Terence C. and Karpik, Lucien (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 307. Martha Davis describes legal aid lawyers, prior to the 1960s, as providers of “routine legal advice” rather than zealous litigants, and as adhering to the view that it was always preferable to settle disputes. Davis, Martha F., Brutal Need: Lawyers and the Welfare Rights Movement, 1960–1973 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 1013. Although not focused on lawyering, Kessler, Amalia D., “Arbitration and Americanization: The Paternalism of Progressive Procedural Reform,” Yale Law Journal 124 (2015): 26803203, makes the related argument that progressive elites endorsed small claims courts that offered forms of arbitration or mediation for the urban poor, partly because of concerns that overly adversarial procedures might foment enmity between the classes. On American adversarialism generally, see Kessler, Amalia D., Inventing American Exceptionalism: The Origins of American Adversarial Legal Culture, 1800–1877 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017); and Kagan, Robert A., Adversarial Legalism: The American Way of Law (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).

12. McConville, Michael and Mirsky, Chester L., “The State, the Legal Profession, and the Defence of the Poor,” Journal of Law and Society 15 (1988): 342, 354–55. See also McConville, Michael and Mirsky, Chester L., “The Origins of the Indigent Defense System,” New York University Review of Law & Social Change 15 (1986–87): 592631.

13. Bliss, Edward N., Directory of Public Defenders 1957 (Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1957).

14. Walton Wood was public defender from 1914 to 1921, and William Tell Aggeler was public defender from 1921 to 1927. Both left to become judges. Phillip Kraus, “The Office of Public Defender in Los Angeles County” (MA diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1937), 43; and “Our History,” Law Office of the Los Angeles County Public Defender, 2018. http://pd.co.la.ca.us/About_history.html (February 5, 2018).

15. Willrich, Michael, City of Courts: Socializing Justice in Progressive Chicago (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

16. Barak, Gregory, “In Defense of the Rich: The Emergence of the Public Defender,” Crime and Social Justice 3 (1975): 214, summarizes progressive public defender proposals; for a comparison with the earlier public defender proposals of Clara Foltz, see Babcock, Barbara Allen, “Inventing the Public Defender,” American Criminal Law Review 43 (2006): 12671316. Babcock writes that progressive public defender proposals envisioned a model of advocacy rooted in “cooperation rather than … adversary presentation.” Babcock, “Inventing the Public Defender,” 1275.

17. See, for example, Wood, Walton J., “Necessity for Public Defender Established by Statistics,” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology 7 (July 1916): 230–44; Wood, Walton J., “Unexpected Results from the Establishment of the Office of Public Defender,” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology 7 (November 1916): 595–99. To modern readers, it may seem as though Wood and his deputies took a fairly high percentage of cases to trial—for example, he reported that the public defender tried 22.3% of cases in 1914, the office's first year, compared with 28.6% for privately retained attorneys—although perhaps he anticipated that these figures would further drop over time. Wood, “Necessity for Public Defender Established by Statistics,” 230.

18. McConville and Mirsky, “The State, the Legal Profession, and the Defence of the Poor,” 352–53, 355. This critique was also leveled at public defenders contemporaneously by private criminal attorneys. For example, the Chicago lawyer William Scott Stewart described public defenders as collaborators who “[made] a virtue of giving up to the prosecution without a struggle.” Stewart, William Scott, Stewart on Trial Strategy: Practical Suggestions to the Young Lawyer on How to Obtain and Hold Clients, How to Prepare and Try Lawsuits (Chicago: The Flood Company, 1940), 1399.

19. Fisher, George, Plea Bargaining's Triumph: A History of Plea Bargaining in America (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 17, 194202 (quote at 199).

20. Kessler, Inventing American Exceptionalism, 158.

21. Grossberg, Michael, “Institutionalizing Masculinity: The Law as a Masculine Profession,” in Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America, ed. Carnes, Mark C. and Griffen, Clyde (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 143.

22. The importance of the courtroom as a site for lawyerly self-presentation is brought into relief by the careers of African-American lawyers in this era, who could challenge racial boundaries by performing the rituals of legal oratory, cross-examination, and decorum with opposing counsel. “Courtrooms were public marketplaces where black lawyers bought and sold prestige and social standing as well as money and legal services.” Mack, Kenneth W., Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 6268 (quote at 68).

23. Kessler, Inventing American Exceptionalism, 164–67. It is because of the association between trials and adversarialism in American legal culture that plea bargaining, which requires defendants to stipulate to facts not proved at trial, is often described pejoratively as inquisitorial. See, for example, Patton, David E., “Federal Public Defense in an Age of Inquisition,” Yale Law Journal 122 (2013): 2581–82. For an illuminating discussion of how American criminal procedure has been shaped by the negative contrast model of inquisitorial procedure, see Sklansky, David Alan, “Anti-Inquisitorialism,” Harvard Law Review 122 (2009): 16341704.

It is worth noting, however, that, formally speaking, the difference between adversarial and inquisitorial procedure has more to do with the allocation of responsibility for fact finding than with the characteristics of the proceedings. In adversarial proceedings, the opposing parties’ lawyers investigate and present the facts, and the judge or jury issues a verdict by choosing between the two parties’ accounts; in inquisitorial procedure, judges themselves gather and assesses the evidence and the parties’ lawyers play only a supplemental role. Langbein, John H., The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 1. Under that more neutral definition, the United States model of plea bargaining in the shadow of adversary trial is not genuinely inquisitorial, because the lawyers retain primary control over the evidence and the judge generally does not independently investigate the facts. If anything, then, plea bargaining combines the worst elements of both adversarialism and inquisitorialism—it is both lawyer centered and non-public—without either system's benefits. Therefore, plea bargaining is probably more accurately described as “nonadversarial” than as affirmatively “inquisitorial.”

24. Grossberg, “Institutionalizing Masculinity,” 134, 148; Drachman, Virginia G., Sisters in Law: Women Lawyers in Modern American History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998). This premise explains why in the nineteenth century, women charitable workers who performed essentially legal work on behalf of the poor were not regarded as lawyers by the bar. See Batlan, Felice, Women and Justice for the Poor: A History of Legal Aid, 1863–1945 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

25. Grossberg, “Institutionalizing Masculinity,” 141. For example, African-American lawyer Sadie Alexander met with snide remarks and “obfuscatory tactics” from male lawyers and judges in the 1930s even when appearing in Orphans’ Court, which was, given its jurisdiction, considered a relatively receptive forum for women lawyers. Mack, Kenneth W., “A Social History of Everyday Practice: Sadie T.M. Alexander and the Incorporation of Black Women into the American Legal Profession, 1925–1960,” Cornell Law Review 87 (2002): 1405–74, at 1432–33.

26. Mack, “A Social History of Everyday Practice.” Other examples of this literature include Batlan, Women and Justice for the Poor; Mack, Representing the Race; Brown-Nagin, Tomiko, Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); and Anthes, Louis, Lawyers and Immigrants, 1870–1940: A Cultural History (Levittown, NY: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2003).

27. Pound, Roscoe, Criminal Justice in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1945), 195.

28. Works, Lewis W., “County Home Rule in California: The Los Angeles County Charter,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 47 (1913): 229–36.

29. Kraus, “The Office of Public Defender in Los Angeles County,” 9–12.

30. Ibid., 5–6.

31. Babcock, “Inventing the Public Defender,” 1274; Babcock, Barbara, Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 317–18.

32. Kraus, “The Office of Public Defender in Los Angeles County,” 4–5; and Bliss, Edward N. Jr., Defense Investigation (Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1956), 1516.

33. One historian of the legal profession described the Midwestern bar as “newer and less aristocratic” than the “Eastern bar elite,” consisting as it did primarily of newcomers to the area with more varied educational backgrounds, and attributed Chicago's adoption of public defense in the 1930s to the Midwest's “more open and inventive brand of professionalism.” Hobson, Wayne K., The American Legal Profession and the Organizational Society, 1890–1930 (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1986), 175–76. If this was true of 1930s Chicago, then it was surely all the more true of 1910s California.

34. For a summary of the arguments see Babcock, “Inventing the Public Defender.”

35. See McConville and Mirsky, “The Origins of the Indigent Defense System” (on New York); on charitable indigent defense in Boston, see Mayeux, Sara, “What Gideon Did,” Columbia Law Review 116 (2016), 2751.

36. Los Angeles business lawyers were not yet organized into the type of large firms that already dominated the elite stratum of the New York Bar. In 1914, Los Angeles had only two “major firms” (defined as firms with at least seven partners, or twelve partners and associates), whereas New York had eleven such firms as well as numerous firms that were smaller but still (for the era) “large.” Hobson, The American Legal Profession and the Organizational Society, 1890–1930, 163 n.31, 170–71. These patterns continued to differentiate the two cities’ legal communities even after Los Angeles had grown into a comparably major city. By the 1960s, by which time a large law firm might have fifty members, there were only two such firms in Los Angeles, whereas New York had a complex ecosystem of such firms whose partners served as “favored advisors” to both government and business leaders. Smigel, Erwin O., The Wall Street Lawyer: Professional Organization Man? (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1964), 178–79, 342.

37. Quoted in Kraus, “The Office of Public Defender in Los Angeles County,” 7.

38. Cal. Stat. 245, sec. 5 (1921).

39. Bliss, Directory of Public Defenders 1957.

40. For birth year, see Kraus, “The Office of Public Defender in Los Angeles County,” 46. Vercoe's high school report cards and diplomas can be found in Box 10, Vercoe Papers. They include a diploma dated 1897 (with degree unspecified) from the Chicago College of Law and a Bachelor of Laws dated 1898 from the Chicago Law School. Chicago College of Law, a precursor to what is now Chicago-Kent College of Law, was then part of Lake Forest University. North-West Division High School later became Tuley High School, and is now Roberto Clemente Community Academy. Vercoe formed part of a transitional generation as the legal profession shifted in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from an apprenticeship model to one based on formal education and credentials. See Abel, Richard L., American Lawyers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 72.

41. “Frederic H. Vercoe Progressive Republican Candidate for Congress,” 1912, Box 9, Vercoe Papers.

42. Vercoe's move was announced in “Progressives Meet,” The Austinite, newspaper clipping dated December 1913, Box 9, Vercoe Papers. This article stated that Vercoe moved to California “to seek a milder climate in search of health and renewed strength.”

43. Kraus, “The Office of Public Defender in Los Angeles County,” 12.

44. “Retires After 19 Years as County Public Defender,” Pasadena Star-News, November 2, 1946, clipping in Box 9, Vercoe Papers.

45. “Frederick Vercoe, Once Public Defender, Dies,” Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1960. The case is Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 355 (1963); on its effects, see Mayeux, “What Gideon Did.”

46. Fogelson, Robert M., The Fragmented Metropolis: Los Angeles, 1850–1930 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), 210–15. On Progressive Republicans’ preferred reforms, see Murphy, William B., “The National Progressive Republican League and the Elusive Quest for Progressive Unity,” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 8 (2009): 520–22. George Mowry described the typical California progressive in terms that match Vercoe: a male Republican lawyer or businessman, originally from the Midwest, and involved in community and fraternal organizations; as William Deverell notes, Mowry's portrait was apt, even if historians have now also identified more diverse strands of California progressivism. Deverell, William, “Introduction: The Varieties of Progressive Experience,” in California Progressivism Revisited, ed. Deverell, William and Sitton, Tom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 114.

47. “Vercoe for Congress,” The Austinite, n.d., clipping in Vercoe Papers, Box 9; and Kipen, David, “The WPA Guide to Renaissance Florence, or A Writer's Paradise,” in Los Angeles in the 1930s: The WPA Guide to the City of Angels (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), xxi–xxii.

48. Escobar, Edward J., Race, Police, and the Making of a Political Identity: Mexican Americans and the Los Angeles Police Department, 1900–1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999); Hernández, Kelly Lytle, City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2017), chap. 5–6; and Wolcott, David B., Cops and Kids: Policing Juvenile Delinquency in Urban America, 1890–1940 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2005).

49. Kipen, “The WPA Guide to Renaissance Florence,” xxi–xxii.

50. On the Progressive ideal, see Hays, Samuel P., “The Politics of Reform in Municipal Government in the Progressive Era,” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 55 (1964): 161, 163–64.

51. Frederic Vercoe, “The Public Defender in the Administration of Justice,” May 1932, 4, Box 3, Folder: Public Defender—Speeches, Vercoe Papers.

52. Ibid., 1.

53. Ibid.

54. See Fogelson, Fragmented Metropolis, 77–81.

55. Ford, John Anson, Thirty Explosive Years in Los Angeles County, paperback reprint (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 2010; originally published 1961), 3.

56. Hays, “The Politics of Reform in Municipal Government in the Progressive Era,” 168.

57. William Deverell catalogs how the “commodity” of Los Angeles was marketed with postcards and advertisements featuring the now-familiar, but then-novel California imagery of “the same neighborhoods, the same gardens, the ever-present palm trees, typical bungalows, typical street scenes, the typical warm winter day, typical semi-tropic vegetation, typical orange groves.” Deverell, William, Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 173–74. On the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce's marketing campaign to attract Midwestern migrants, see Fogelson, Fragmented Metropolis, 70–71.

58. Davis, Mike, “Sunshine and the Open Shop: Ford and Darwin in 1920s Los Angeles,” in Metropolis in the Making: Los Angeles in the 1920s, ed. Sitton, Tom and Deverell, William (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 96122.

59. See Molina, Natalia, Fit to Be Citizens?: Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879–1939 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 2 (discussing how county officials described “people of Chinese, Mexican, and Japanese ancestry in Los Angeles as threats to public health and civic well-being”); Hernández, City of Inmates, 146–47, 162–63 (discussing local leaders’ statements of unease with Mexican and African-American populations).

60. Sanchez, George J., Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 88103; Deverell, Whitewashed Adobe; Molina, Fit to Be Citizens?; and Wolcott, Cops and Kids, 175–77.

61. Balderrama, Francisco E. and Rodriguez, Raymond, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s, revised ed. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006); Hoffman, Abraham, Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression: Repatriation Pressures, 1929–1939 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1974); and Sanchez, Becoming Mexican American, 210.

62. For a summary (and critique) of how historians have replicated this binary, see Laslett, John H.M., Sunshine Was Never Enough: Los Angeles Workers, 1880–2010 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 78. For the classic dystopian account, see Davis, Mike, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, new ed. (New York: Verso, 2006).

63. Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust (1939), available at https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/west/nathanael/day-of-the-locust/index.html (October 26, 2017).

64. Los Angeles County Charter (1914), art. 6, sec. 23. The charter also authorized the Public Defender's Office to undertake certain kinds of civil litigation, including wage claims below $100, although the office's civil jurisdiction would receive less emphasis over time. Still, as late as 1937, the Los Angeles County Public Defender's Office employed three deputies working on civil matters, compared with eight criminal deputies. Kraus, “The Office of Public Defender in Los Angeles County,” 27–29. County public defenders did not appear in the lower-level police courts. Within the city limits, the City of Los Angeles had its own public defender's office to handle those cases.

65. People v. Romero, 57 P.2d 557 (Cal. App. 1936); and People v. Paz et al., 36 P.2d 657 (Cal. App. 1934).

66. People v. Price, 277 P. 316 (Cal. 1929); and People v. Murphy, 32 P.2d 635 (Cal. 1934).

67. For examples see “Prominent Public Officials,” Los Angeles Times, January 1, 1924, C20; “Representative Officials and Professional Men of Los Angeles,” Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1937, D14; “Representative Officials and Professional Men of Los Angeles,” Los Angeles Times, January 3, 1938, D12; “Representative Judiciary, Officials, and Professional Men of Los Angeles,” Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1941, 20; and “Representative Judicial, Civic, and Professional Men of Los Angeles,” Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1942, B30. Vercoe saved the 1941 and 1942 editions in his personal scrapbook, which is in Box 9, Vercoe Papers.

68. “Representative Judicial, Civic, and Professional Men of Los Angeles,” Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1943, E22.

69. “Who's Who in Los Angeles,” Los Angeles Examiner, September 5, 1938; “Reflecting the American Way of Life. Outstanding Personages in Civic, Professional and Business Life of Los Angeles,” Los Angeles Examiner, September 9, 1941; both clippings in Box 9, Vercoe Papers.

70. Halberstam, David, The Powers That Be (New York: Knopf, 1979), 101–2, 106.

71. The tableaux were not comprehensive but included a selection of public officials and prominent business leaders. For example, the Los Angeles County Department of Charities, which managed local welfare rolls, was not represented. On that department, see Balderrama and Rodriguez, Decade of Betrayal, 94–95.

72. See People v. Dyer, 79 P.2d 1071 (Cal. 1938); and “Dyer Trial Opens Friday: State Will Ask Death Penalty for Slaying of Inglewood Girls,” Los Angeles Times, August 2, 1937, 9.

73. “Voices—the Albert Dyer Case,” LA Times Blogs— The Daily Mirror, May 5, 2007, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/thedailymirror/2007/05/voicesthe_alber.html (June 27, 2017). Dyer was guarded by police officers in court to prevent “possible violence.” “Pleads Not Guilty to Inglewood Triple Child Slayings,” Los Angeles Times, July 13, 1937, 3.

74. Transcripts and briefs can be found in People v. Dyer, Crim. 4141, Supreme Court of California Records, Criminal Case Files, 1850–1965, California State Archives, Sacramento, Calif. (hereafter Dyer case file). According to trial testimony, Dyer was severely intellectually disabled. The primary evidence against him was a series of confessions he made after 10 hours of interrogation. Prior to the interrogation, Dyer had viewed the bodies and the scene of the crime because he was among the volunteers in the search party that found the missing girls. The defense theory of the case was that Dyer had been coerced into falsely confessing, and that his statements actually consisted of him retelling “what he had observed… at the time he assisted in the removal of the bodies” combined with acceding to the detectives’ leading yes-or-no questions. “At no time in any of the statements did the defendant give any narration as to the things which he was purportedly confessing, always it was by leading questions and in the great majority of instances the only answer was a ‘yes sir’ or a ‘no sir’.” Appellant's Points and Authorities at 33–34, filed December 21, 1937, Dyer case file. See also Bliss, Defense Investigation, 11–13.

75. “Dyer Trial Panel Drawn: Surprise Move by Defense Expected in Triple Killing Case,” Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1937, A1.

76. Frederic H. Vercoe, Financial Statement to Bank, July 10, 1928, Box 8, Folder: Financial Statement, Vercoe Papers. This conversion is measured simply by purchasing power, but it is worth noting that using the alternative measure of relative “economic status,” which estimates the relative “prestige value” of a salary at a given time, Vercoe's salary appears even more substantial: $381,000 in 2016 dollars. All conversions were conducted using the “Measuring Worth” service. Samuel H. Williamson, “Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to present,” MeasuringWorth, 2018. www.measuringworth.com/uscompare/ (February 5, 2018).

77. Frederic H. Vercoe, Financial Statement to Bank, March 3, 1939, Box 8, Folder: Financial Statement, Vercoe Papers; and Kraus, “The Office of Public Defender in Los Angeles County,” 38–39. This amount would be $581,000 by the “economic status” measure.

78. In the 1940 Census, only 1.2% of Los Angeles men in the experienced labor force reported wage or salary income greater than $5,000. 1940 Census, Vol. 3: The Labor Force, Part 2, California, 277, Table 15.

79. Garcia, Matt, A World of Its Own: Race, Labor, and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900–1970 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), at 37–38, 164 (listing citrus worker pay at $30/biweekly during Depression and citrus packinghouse manager salary at $3,200 annually in 1935).

80. 1940 Census, Vol. 3: The Labor Force, Part 1, 120, Table 72; Part 2, California, 278, Table 16. For comparison, in 1946, Loren Miller, an especially successful Los Angeles solo practitioner in the top echelon of earnings, earned nearly $7,500 a year in private practice. Mack, Representing the Race, 205.

81. Kraus, “The Office of Public Defender in Los Angeles County,” 39.

82. “Retires After 19 Years as County Public Defender.”

83. Kraus, “The Office of Public Defender in Los Angeles County,” 39–40.

84. Ibid., 42. Between 1929 and 1931, half of California lawyers reported “not earn[ing] enough during their first year in practice to support their families… and 33 percent still did not in their third year.” Auerbach, Jerold S., Unequal Justice: Lawyers and Social Change in Modern America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 159. At the height of the Depression, half of attorneys nationwide earned less than $2,000 a year. Ginger, Ann Fagan and Tobin, Eugene M., eds., The National Lawyers Guild: From Roosevelt through Reagan (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988), 3.

85. Kraus, “The Office of Public Defender in Los Angeles County,” 42.

86. Ibid., 43–44.

87. Miscellaneous correspondence, mailing labels on magazines, and other mail throughout Vercoe's papers list addresses at houses in San Marino and San Gabriel, both adjacent to Pasadena. Vercoe appears at times to have leased rather than owned his home (as his papers include draft leases identifying him as the lessee), although he at one point reported rental income to his bank, suggesting that he also owned property. See miscellaneous correspondence and mailing labels in Box 7, Folder: Forms—Misc; Box 7, Folder: House Data; and Box 8, Folder: 1947—Current Dictation; as well as financial statements in Box 8, Folder: Financial Statement, Vercoe Papers. For Vercoe's time in Monterey Park and foray into oil prospecting, see “Monterey Park Hunts Oil,” Los Angeles Times, September 2, 1927, A11. On Edendale (encompassing what is now Silver Lake and Echo Park), see especially Hurewitz, Daniel, Bohemian Los Angeles and the Making of Modern Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007). For descriptions of the “well-planned towns” such as San Marino and the area around Pasadena, see Federal Writers Project, Los Angeles in the 1930s, 6, 111, 255.

88. Federal Writers Project, Los Angeles in the 1930s, 255 (describing Pasadena in particular; as “dignified, reserved,” a “city of many churches,” “well-bred quiet”). Franklin Padan, Vercoe's chief deputy, was president of the Bar Association of Alhambra (just south of Pasadena). “Padan Heads Alhambra Bar,” Los Angeles Times, January 18, 1932, 10. Another deputy, Halford Thomas, also lived in Alhambra. “Deputy Defender Dies Suddenly,” Los Angeles Times, October 8, 1946, 12.

89. “Public Defender Takes His Oath as New Judge,” Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1949; Cain, James M., Mildred Pierce (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1989 [originally published 1941), 9 (“endless suburb”). The Times article gives Neeley's address as 1429 Virginia Avenue in Glendale, which is viewable via Google Maps and various online real estate databases and is listed as having been built in 1928. Zillow.com, http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/1429-Virginia-Ave-Glendale-CA-91202/20829253_zpid/ (October 15, 2014). Cain describes Glendale's typical bungalows, each with a “patch of grass” and “avocado, lemon, and mimosa trees.” Cain, Mildred Pierce, 3–4. I do not mean to overstate the defenders’ economic or social standing; there were class and status distinctions within the Pasadena area. See ibid., 155 (describing upward-climbing Glendale character's complaints that “by Pasadena standards” her family didn't measure up).

90. Gordon, Robert W., “The Legal Profession,” in Looking Back at Law's Century, ed. Sarat, Austin, Garth, Bryant G., and Kagan, Robert A. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 289–90, 294; see, generally, Heinz, John P., Chicago Lawyers: The Social Structure of the Bar, revised ed. (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1994).

91. Moley, Raymond, Our Criminal Courts (New York: Minton, Balch & Company, 1930), 6263.

92. Goldman, Mayer C., The Public Defender; a Necessary Factor in the Administration of Justice (New York and London: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1917), 1920.

93. A woman named Betty Berry served as a deputy defender for 3 years when the office first opened, but handled the office's civil docket. Bates, Rosalind Goodrich, “Women Lawyers in Public Office—Are We Losing Ground?Women Lawyers’ Journal 20 (1933), 20; Kraus, “The Office of Public Defender in Los Angeles County,” 44.

94. In identifying Vercoe and his deputies as white men, I simply mean that they appear to have been regarded as white men within the racial ideology of their time and place. I make no genealogical claims about their ancestry, nor do I mean to reify any notion that there is some “essential” or “true” whiteness beyond the social construction of that racial category. I am relying partially on evidence from photographs and the fact that they generally had English or European surnames, but primarily on the fact that news coverage and other records of them and their work did not identify their race or gender, implying that in the eyes of observers, they fit the then-default category. Certainly that is true of Vercoe: his surname is English, and had he been identified by contemporaries as anything other than white, it would surely have been noted in newspaper articles and obituaries about him. Ellery Cuff, who joined the office in 1928 and headed the office from 1949 to 1963, was described in his obituary as “a Northern California farm boy.” Burt A. Folkart, “Ellery Cuff, 92; Joined Public Defender in ’28,” Los Angeles Times, September 16, 1988, http://articles.latimes.com/1988-09-16/news/mn-2023_1_public-defender (December 18, 2013). More detailed research into the office's staff over time would likely reveal more complex insights about particular individuals’ ancestry and conceptions of identity.

95. Bates, “Women Lawyers in Public Office,” 20.

96. See Mack, “A Social History of Everyday Practice,” 1428, 1466. On women and minority lawyers’ overrepresentation in civil legal aid societies, see Grossberg, “The Politics of Professionalism,” 343. There were a number of women public defenders in the City of Los Angeles Public Defender's Office, which was distinct from the county office and represented defendants in police court. Bates, “Women Lawyers in Public Office,” 21.

97. By comparison, the idea that women should not be exposed to sordid facts was sometimes cited as a reason for excluding women from jury service. Kerber, Linda, No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (New York: Macmillan, 1999), 140–42.

98. The observation that all of the office's lawyers were men is not intended to downplay the work performed by the women in the office. To the contrary, these women likely played a more significant role in the office's behind-the-scenes legal work than their clerical titles might suggest. Secretary Blanche Robinson worked in the office from 1914 until retiring in 1949, matching Vercoe's longevity. One investigator recalled that she was “often referred to as the Assistant Public Defender… because there was no one who dared question her judgment or her directions.” Bliss, Defense Investigation, 16, 8. On the occasion of her retirement, Vercoe offered high praise for her conscientiousness, industry, and loyalty. Frederic H. Vercoe to Judge William B. Neeley, February 28, 1950, Box 8, Folder: Current Dictation—1947—Vercoe, Vercoe Papers.

99. Although this seems most clearly true of Vercoe himself, additional research on other individual defenders’ political histories would further illuminate this question.

100. Photograph dated July 1946, Box 9, Vercoe Papers.

101. Davis, Clark, “The View from Spring Street: White-Collar Men in the City of Angels,” in Metropolis in the Making: Los Angeles in the 1920s, ed. Sitton, Tom and Deverell, William (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 180.

102. Ibid., 183–84.

103. On National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) organizing against police brutality and other racial justice issues in Los Angeles in the 1920s through the 1940s, see Hernández, City of Inmates, 165–66, 177–91. Mack describes Loren Miller's involvement in both criminal and civil cases raising racial justice issues in Representing the Race, chap. 8. The absence of evidence is not definitive evidence of absence, of course, but my review of Vercoe's papers did not uncover correspondence related to these types of efforts.

104. “Frederic H. Vercoe Presented With Farewell Scroll.” See also “Junior Flag Wardens of San Marino County, California, 1942,” Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, Accession Number 59–420. https://www.trumanlibrary.org/photographs/view.php?id=4690 (September 13, 2015).

105. On DAR's conservative brand of patriotism, see Strange, Carolyn, “Sisterhood of Blood: The Will to Descend and the Formation of the Daughters of the American Revolution,” Journal of Women's History 26 (2014): 105–28; Erickson, Christine K., “‘So Much for Men’: Conservative Women and National Defense in the 1920s and 1930s,” American Studies 45 (2004): 85102. In 1939, the national DAR infamously barred the African-American singer Marian Anderson from performing in the organization's Philadelphia concert hall.

106. Vercoe first taught the classes in 1934. See Frederic H. Vercoe, Financial Statement to Bank, August 12, 1937, Box 8, Folder: Financial Statement, Vercoe Papers. For the 1936–37 class, Vercoe recorded receipts of $1,475, which, at $25 per student, equates to fifty-nine students, and was not a trivial sum, considering that Vercoe's salary in 1937 was $7,200. Ibid.; “Cash received from class 1936–1937,” in Box 8, Folder: Financial Statement, Vercoe Papers; and “Class in Criminal Trials and Appeals,” 1939, Box 9, Vercoe Papers.

107. Flyer advertising the “Frederic H. Vercoe Class in Criminal Trials and Appeals,” 1949, Box 5, Folder: Mrs. Buwalda, Vercoe Papers.

108. Harry Pregerson, telephone interview by Sara Mayeux, October 16, 2014. Pregerson, later a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, telephoned Vercoe as a “young lawyer” seeking a copy of Vercoe's outlines. Handwritten telephone message, October 10, 1951, Box 7, Folder: Book—C.T.&A., Vercoe Papers. On his later career, see Maura Dolan, “Harry Pregerson, one of the most liberal federal appeals court judges in the nation, dies at 94,” Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2017. http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-harry-pregerson-snap-story.html (November 26, 2017). For another lawyer's praise of the lecture outline, see Richard B. Levitt to Frederic H. Vercoe, May 3, 1950, Box 8, Folder: Current Dictation—1947—Vercoe, Vercoe Papers.

109. Eighteen out of twenty-seven lectures concerned trial matters. Frederic H. Vercoe, “Outlines of Lectures. Criminal Trials and Appeals,” 1941, Box 6, Vercoe Papers.

110. Brochure for 1939–40 course, 1939, Box 9, Vercoe Papers.

111. For example: “Study the decisions of the Appellate Courts in reference to the particular crime. Become thoroughly familiar with them”; “Sec. 1008 P.C. sets forth how and when an indictment or information may be amended… Study this section thoroughly and carefully. It is important”; “This is a strong case [for defendants]. Read it”; “Read and study this case as it may aid you in some situations.” Vercoe, “Outlines of Lectures,” 31, 33, 37, 38.

112. Ibid., 8.

113. Such a file with materials from 1947 to 1953 survives in Vercoe's papers. Although this file postdates Vercoe's tenure as public defender, it suggests that he likely maintained similar files throughout his career. Legal aid advocate John Bradway similarly described civil legal aid work as an expertise that could be developed by “handl[ing] dozens of cases on a particular point.” Quoted in Grossberg, “The Politics of Professionalism,” 319–20.

114. For example, Vercoe advised not to waive preliminary examination unless some specific advantage could be gained thereby, and to fix the testimony of prosecution witnesses at the preliminary examination so that they could be impeached later. Vercoe, “Outlines of Lectures,” 5, 10.

115. Ibid., 6–8, 105.

116. In 1874, the president of Yale University praised Yale Law School as a place where lawyers learned not “simply… to plead cases” and “defend criminals,” but pondered the “foundations of justice.” Quoted in Hobson, The American Legal Profession and the Organizational Society, 1890–1930, 333. This attitude only intensified in elite legal education as the twentieth century progressed; criminal law courses, when offered at all, focused not on nuts and bolts but on broad principles and the reasons for punishment. See Walker, Anders, “The Anti-Case Method: Herbert Wechsler and the Political History of the Criminal Law Course,” Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 7 (2009): 217–47. The lack of practical training in law programs, of course, might help to explain the demand among young lawyers for professional development courses such as Vercoe's.

117. Vercoe, “Outlines of Lectures,” 14.

118. Ibid., 105.

119. Ibid.

120. Hurst, James Willard, The Growth of American Law: The Law Makers (Boston: Little, Brown, 1950), 251.

121. Chicago defense attorney William Stewart observed that some successful lawyers were “rude and unmannerly,” because intelligence and skill mattered more than decorum. Stewart, Stewart on Trial Strategy, 157.

122. Vercoe, “Outlines of Lectures,” 7, 98–101, 105.

123. Kasson, John F., The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America (New York: Norton, 2014), 1. I thank Michelle Everidge Anderson for this reference.

124. Ibid., 20–22.

125. Quoted in ibid., 23.

126. Quoted in ibid., 41.

127. Carnegie, Dale, How to Win Friends and Influence People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1936); and Kasson, The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression.

128. Vercoe, “Outlines of Lectures,” 10.

129. “Counsel for the Defense,” 6.

130. “Summary of Advantages of Public Defender in Criminal Cases,” appears in numerous versions of the annual report, including Frederic H. Vercoe, Annual Report Public Defender Los Angeles County Fiscal Year July 1, 1942, to July 1, 1943, 1943, 10–11. In form, although with different specifics, this list replicated stock rhetoric from articles and books endorsing public defense dating to the Progressive Era. Compare Goldman, The Public Defender, 35–36.

131. Ford, Thirty Explosive Years in Los Angeles County, 77–78.

132. Vercoe, “Outlines of Lectures,” 6.

133. Ibid., 39, 37.

134. Ibid., 38.

135. Beecher, Daniel, “1934 California Constitutional Amendments in the Field of the Criminal Law,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 29 (1939): 668–71.

136. George Olshausen to Willard W. Shea, July 17, 1941, Box 5, Folder: State Bar Matters, Vercoe Papers.

137. Ibid.

138. Vercoe quoted in ibid.

139. Ibid.

140. Proceedings at 1941 Conference of State Bar Delegates in re Committee on Plea of Guilty Before Committing Magistrate, 3, attached to Charles E. Sharritt to Frederic H. Vercoe, Esq., January 5, 1942, Box 5, Folder: State Bar Matters, Vercoe Papers.

141. Willard W. Shea, “Recollections of Alameda County's First Public Defender: An Interview Conducted by Miriam Feingold,” in Perspectives on the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, Vol. 1, Bancroft Library Regional Oral History Library, 1972, loc. 35e, 13e. http://www.oac.cdlib.org/view?docId=kt9489p008&brand=oac4&doc.view=entire_text (September 12, 2013).

142. Ibid., loc. 16e.

143. Proceedings at 1941 Conference of State Bar Delegates in re Committee on Plea of Guilty Before Committing Magistrate, 3–4. Padan noted that no time could be saved by early pleas, because a public defender, once appointed, had “to make just as careful an investigation of the facts to determine what plea the defendant should have entered… In fact, sometimes we have to make a more careful investigation and go through with more procedure in order to correct what was an obviously wrong error in entering an obviously wrong plea.” Vercoe and Shea otherwise had an amicable acquaintanceship. See Frederic Vercoe to Mr. Willard W. Shea, September 12, 1951, and Frederic Vercoe to Willard W. Shea, October 11, 1950, both in Box 8, Folder: Current Dictation—1947—Vercoe, Vercoe Papers.

144. Shea, “Recollections of Alameda County's First Public Defender.”

145. Ibid., Appendix 1 (1969 interview).

146. The Stanford Law Library retains copies of the annual reports for 1941–55 and 1969–81. For the purposes of this article, this chart ends in 1946 because that was the year of Vercoe's retirement. The overall 1941–45 figures may have been lower than usual because of the war. A 1941 letter refers to the Los Angeles Public Defender handling “2700 felony cases during the course of a year.” Olshausen to Shea, July 17, 1941.

147. Some number of the cases transferred to other attorneys presumably then proceeded to trial, which is one reason why these data should not be taken to reflect trial rates overall in Los Angeles.

148. Frederic H. Vercoe, Annual Report Public Defender Los Angeles County Fiscal Year July 1, 1942, to July 1, 1943, 1943, 2–5. Vercoe also noted that public defenders shortened the length of trials by “eliminating dilatory and procrastinating tactics” and agreeing to bench rather than jury trials.

149. Vercoe, “The Public Defender in the Administration of Justice,” May 1932, 10–11.

150. See, for example, Wood, “Necessity for Public Defender Established by Statistics,” 231 (attributing “considerable saving of expense to the county” to reduced trial rates).

151. Haber, Samuel, Efficiency and Uplift: Scientific Management in the Progressive Era, 1890–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), ix.

152. On the report's audience, see “Public Defender Reviews Cases. Vercoe Handled 31,663 Within Year, With 2632 in Criminal Division,” November 3, 1941, clipping in Box 9, Vercoe Papers (referring to “annual report on file with the Board of Supervisors”). (The 31,663 figure includes inquiries about civil legal assistance.)

153. Ford, Thirty Explosive Years in Los Angeles County, 28–29 (praising purchasing agent). Ford also commended an administrative officer for “efficiency.” Ibid., 31. On the ethos of efficiency and businesslike government, see also Fogelson, Fragmented Metropolis, 217–21.

154. Wolcott, Cops and Kids, 151–52, 155–58.

155. An important insight of law-and-society scholarship is that law is made and elaborated not solely or even primarily in formal judicial settings, but also in everyday interactions between lawyers and their clients. Sarat, Austin and Felstiner, William L. F., “Law and Strategy in the Divorce Lawyer's Office,” Law & Society Review 20 (1986): 9394. Historians of civil legal aid have noted the discrepancy between clients’ own conceptions of effective representation and the profession's internal standards. Grossberg, “The Politics of Professionalism,” 340–41.

156. Nationwide, 3% of felony charges brought in state court are adjudicated through a trial (2% are convicted at trial, 1% acquitted). Bureau of Justice Statistics, Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties, 2009—Statistical Tables, Table 21. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fdluc09.pdf. The Los Angeles public defender tries 5% of felony cases and 3% of misdemeanor cases. Albert-Goldberg, Nancy, “Los Angeles County Public Defender Office in Perspective,” California Western Law Review 45 (2009): 457. For one recent year, the San Francisco Public Defender reported sixty felony jury trials total, across the office's forty-nine felony attorneys. San Francisco Public Defender 2012 Annual Report and 2013 Calendar. http://sfpublicdefender.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2013/01/2012report2013calendar1.pdf (February 5, 2018).

157. Affidavit, November 22, 1937, Dyer case file.

158. In Romero, Bird requested a continuance until the afternoon on the morning trial was set to begin, because he was that same day finishing up another trial in a different courtroom. Reporter's transcript on appeal at 12, People v. Romero, 2 Crim. 2182, Second Appellate District Court of Appeal Records, Criminal Case Files, 1905–1985, California State Archives, Sacramento, Calif. (hereafter Romero case file).

159. As happened throughout the United States, California's per capita incarceration rate remained relatively steady until the late 1970s and then climbed exponentially. As late as 1984, California had twelve prisons, and fewer than 42,000 prisoners; thereafter, the state built an additional twenty-three prisons, and at the system's height in 2006, had almost 174,000 prisoners. Gilmore, Ruth, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 7; and “State-by-State Data,” The Sentencing Project, 2017. http://www.sentencingproject.org/the-facts/#map (June 15, 2017).

160. McConville and Mirsky, “The State, the Legal Profession, and the Defence of the Poor,” 355–56. For an overview of Progressive Era public defender proposals that advances a similar interpretation, Barak, “In Defense of the Rich,” 2–14.

161. Vercoe, “Outlines of Lectures,” 1.

162. Ibid., 6.

163. Ibid., 12. Vercoe later noted that he felt that California law was “unfair to the defendant” because California permitted the information or indictment to provide only an estimate of the time of the offense, hindering the innocent defendant's ability to prepare an alibi defense (at 27).

164. Vercoe, “The Public Defender in the Administration of Justice,” May 1932, 6.

165. Clerk's transcript at 50–51, Dyer case file. Los Angeles County public defenders requested a similar instruction in People v. Price, suggesting that it was a stock instruction request for them. See clerk's transcript at 42, People v. Price, Crim. 3183, Supreme Court of California Records, Criminal Case Files, 1850–1965, California State Archives, Sacramento, Calif. In Price, the instruction as given read, in part: “You must not suffer yourselves to be prejudiced against the defendant because of the fact that he is charged with this offense.”

166. Vercoe, “Outlines of Lectures,” 67.

167. Again there was some parallel to defenses being made on the East Coast of civil legal aid. In 1929, the president of the New York Legal Aid Society described a legal aid lawyer as “a lawyer” like “any other member of the profession; the only distinction” being that “the society employing him… receives no compensation” from the client. Quoted in Grossberg, “The Politics of Professionalism,” 325.

168. Kraus, “The Office of Public Defender in Los Angeles County,” 50.

169. William B. Neeley, Report of Public Defender of Los Angeles County July 1, 1946 to June 30, 1948, 1948, 9.

170. In re Hough, 24 Cal. 2d 522, 528 (Cal. 1944). For further background and discussion of this doctrinal development, see Mayeux, Sara, “The Case of the Black-Gloved Rapist: Defining the Public Defender's Role in the California Courts, 1913–1948,” California Legal History 5 (2010): 217–40.

171. Vercoe, “The Public Defender in the Administration of Justice,” May 1932, 7–9.

172. Sanchez, Becoming Mexican American, 13.

173. When identifying individuals, Vercoe occasionally used ethnic or racial descriptors typical of the era. I mean here that he did not describe himself as a lawyer for any group or groups in particular.

174. Balderrama, Francisco E., In Defense of La Raza: The Los Angeles Mexican Consulate and the Mexican Community, 1929 to 1936 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1982), 38 (citing an article in the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion, June 2, 1935). Balderrama also notes that Mexican mutual aid societies sometimes included legal assistance in their package of offerings, along with life insurance, funeral expenses, unemployment relief, and medical care.

175. Balderrama, In Defense of La Raza, 6–7, 9–10. In at least one case, a woman sought the consulate's legal help in contesting a forced sterilization order. Molina, Fit to Be Citizens? 148–49. For general background on the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles, see Balderrama, In Defense of La Raza; and Sanchez, Becoming Mexican American, 109–11. Balderrama presents the consulate as a resource for the Mexican community, whereas Sanchez more ambivalently portrays the consulate as representing an elite perspective not necessarily shared by working-class Mexican emigrants, who tended to be more skeptical of the Mexican state.

176. If the lawyers hired were themselves of Mexican descent, or otherwise close to the Mexican community, another factor might have been the value of being represented by a lawyer from, or at least chosen by, one's own community. Cf. Meier, August and Rudwick, Elliott, “Attorneys Black and White: A Case Study of Race Relations within the NAACP,” The Journal of American History 62 (1976): 939–40 (discussing the significance of African-American counsel representing African-American defendants in the Jim Crow South). Los Angeles was home to a handful of lawyers who had been trained in Mexico, although it is unclear whether or to what extent they took criminal cases. See Sanchez, Becoming Mexican American, 114, 175; Balderrama, In Defense of La Raza, 17 (noting failed effort by Mexican merchants to hire attorneys during the 1932 deportation crisis).

177. On Los Angeles-area corridos (Mexican folk songs) expressing fear of local government officials, including social workers, see Sanchez, Becoming Mexican American, 180. In addition to their experiences in Los Angeles, those who had recently emigrated from Mexico may have also harbored a more generalized distrust toward law enforcement; the Mexican courts were widely viewed as corrupt. See Sanchez, Becoming Mexican American, 109–10 (on emigrants’ ambivalence toward Mexican government); and Piccato, Pablo, “Cuidado Con Los Rateros: The Making of Criminals in Modern Mexico City,” in Crime and Punishment in Latin America: Law and Society Since Late Colonial Times, ed. Salvatore, Ricardo Donato, Aguirre, Carlos, and Joseph, Gilbert M. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), 233–75.

178. Vercoe, “The Public Defender in the Administration of Justice,” May 1932, 15–16.

179. Sanchez, Becoming Mexican American, 184. After several rounds of charges against González were dismissed by the courts, Fitts ultimately succeeded at convicting González of rape, although González maintained his innocence and one of the witnesses against him later recanted. He served several years in San Quentin State Prison and then negotiated parole contingent on deportation to Mexico. Hernández, City of Inmates, 150–56.

180. For a comprehensive history of the case, see Pagan, Eduardo Obregon, Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon: Zoot Suits, Race, and Riot in Wartime (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003). Barajas, Frank P., “The Defense Committees of Sleepy Lagoon: A Convergent Struggle against Fascism, 1942–1944,” Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies 31 (2006): 3362, offers an important revision of some of Pagan's descriptions of the defense effort. For the comparison to Scottsboro, see Barajas, “The Defense Committees of Sleepy Lagoon,” 51–52.

181. According to historians who have combed through the few facts available, it is unclear whether Diaz was involved in the brawl at all; he may have fallen victim to an unrelated attack that was coincidentally in the same area.

182. People v. Zammora, 152 P.2d 180 (Cal. App. 1944). On the zoot suit riots, see Sanchez, Becoming Mexican American, 253, 261–67.

183. For examples of objections, People v. Zammora, Reporter's Transcript on Appeal, 2009. http://www.oac.cdlib.org/view?docId=hb6199p2dh&query=&brand=oac4 (September 27, 2017) (hereafter Zammora transcript), Vol. I, 99, 136, 148, 152, and Vol. III, 1124–27, 1134; for examples of cross-examination, see ibid., Vol. I, 99–100, 191–92; for “inconveniencing anybody,” see ibid., Vol. III, 1092; and for other administrative requests, see ibid., Vol. I, 136.

184. Zammora transcript, Vol. I, 99–100.

185. Pagan, Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon, 77.

186. Pagan describes defense lawyer George Shibley, who replaced Bird, as introducing an “energy and fighting spirit” previously lacking from the trial (albeit perhaps counterproductively, as Shibley frequently “locked horns” with the judge). Ibid., 86.

187. The most comprehensive history of the case briefly discusses Bird's role. Ibid., 77, 82, 86–87. A newspaper retrospective published in 1997 erroneously stated that “in those days there was no public defender.” Hector Tobar, “Sleepy Lagoon Victims Laud Their Champion,” Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1997. http://articles.latimes.com/1997-04-20/local/me-50667_1_sleepy-lagoon (July 24, 2015).

188. Several days earlier, Shibley had already joined the trial when he was substituted for four other of the defendants, also initially represented by Bird. Zammora transcript, Vol. I, 460 (October 22, 1942, substitution); Vol. IV, 1585 (November 2, 1942, substitution and withdrawal from case). On Shibley's hiring by McCormick, see Barajas, “The Defense Committees of Sleepy Lagoon,” 40; Pagan, Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon, 85–86. Shibley gained a national profile decades later when he represented Robert Kennedy's assassin. Jill Stewart, “Attorney George Shibley, Defender of Sirhan, Dies,” Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1989. http://articles.latimes.com/1989-07-05/news/mn-3134_1_sirhan-sirhan (July 24, 2015). Founded in 1925, the International Labor Defense (ILD) provided lawyers for party activists and, on occasion, nonpolitical criminal defendants in especially egregious cases, most famously the Scottsboro nine in Alabama. There is much discussion about the ILD in the vast historiography on Communism, but a helpful overview is provided in Hill, Rebecca N., Men, Mobs, and Law: Anti-Lynching and Labor Defense in U.S. Radical History (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), chap. 5.

189. Quoted in Barajas, “The Defense Committees of Sleepy Lagoon,” 39.

190. Ibid.; Malca Chall, LaRue McCormick: Activist in the Radical Movement, 1930–1960, Bancroft Library Regional Oral History Library, 1976.

191. Barajas, “The Defense Committee of Sleepy Lagoon,” 39–40.

192. For examples of Vercoe's lists of illustrative cases, see “Counsel for the Defense,” 7; “Defense of the Accused,” n.d., Box 3, Folder: Public Defender Speeches, Vercoe Papers, 3. One list did include references to cases involving “Mexican boy from Fresno—identified by Japs” and “three Mexican boys” with an “alibi witness.” “The Public Defender in the Administration of Justice,” n.d., Box 3, Folder: Public Defender Speeches, Vercoe Papers, 7. More typically the lists did not specify racial or ethnic descriptors for the defendants. Vercoe's notes for his speeches were typically outlines rather than verbatim scripts; therefore, I cannot rule out the possibility that he discussed the case in person.

193. Reporters’ transcript on appeal at 23–25, Romero case file.

194. Ibid. When asked whether the defense would stipulate that the cigarettes entered into evidence contained marijuana, Bird replied: “Yes—for the purpose of horrifying the Court with the dastardly deed… so that a just verdict may be returned!”

195. People v. Romero, 57 P.2d 557 (Cal. App. 1936).

196. Appellant's Points and Authorities, 6–7, 12–13, Romero case file.

197. Information, Romero case file.

198. Appellant's Points and Authorities, 13, Romero case file.

199. In the words of one federal public defender: “Our work consists mostly of mitigation investigation and sentencing advocacy.” Patton, “Federal Public Defense in an Age of Inquisition,” 2595. When criminal lawyers celebrate the trial today, it is often to regret its disappearance. See, for example, Irwin H. Schwartz, “Consequences of the Disappearing Criminal Jury Trial,” Champion, November 2001. http://www.nacdl.org/Champion.aspx?id=22586 (April 12, 2016).

200. Lynn M. Mather, “Some Determinants of the Method of Case Disposition: Decision-Making by Public Defenders in Los Angeles,” Law & Society Review 8 (1974): 187–216. Of course, this description is not exclusive to criminal lawyers. Divorce lawyers, for example, similarly “present… themselves as well-connected insiders” whose main value to clients is not technical legal expertise but “familiarity with the way the system works.” Sarat and Felstiner, “Law and Strategy in the Divorce Lawyer's Office,” 102.

201. I have suggested in other work that Gideon may have paradoxically hastened this shift in professional identity. Mayeux, “What Gideon Did.”

202. Robin Steinberg, “Heeding Gideon's Call in the Twenty-first Century: Holistic Defense and the New Public Defense Paradigm,” Washington and Lee Law Review 70 (2013): 963, 964.

203. “Law for Black Lives Program.” n.d. http://www.law4blacklives.org/program/ (June 14, 2017). This description is also based on my own notes from attending the event.

204. Jeff Adachi, “10 Things Public Defenders Can Do To Stand Up For Racial Justice,” Medium, September 28, 2015. https://medium.com/@sfdefender/10-things-public-defenders-can-do-to-stand-up-for-racial-justice-c8f508459c52 (September 28, 2015).

205. Sarat, Austin and Scheingold, Stuart, “Cause Lawyering and the Reproduction of Professional Authority: An Introduction,” in Cause Lawyering: Political Commitments and Professional Responsibilities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 7.

206. Minow, Martha, “Political Lawyering: An Introduction,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 31 (1996): 289.

207. Elsesser, Charles, “Community Lawyering: The Role of Lawyers in the Social Justice Movement,” Loyola Journal of Public Interest Law 14 (2013): 375–76.

For feedback on drafts of this article or helpful conversations, she thanks Barbara Babcock, Felice Batlan, Jim Campbell, Bob Gordon, Sally Gordon, Joanna Grisinger, Martha Jones, Elizabeth Katz, Amalia Kessler, Sophia Lee, Serena Mayeri, Mary Mitchell, Jack Rakove, and Dan Sharfstein, as well as Gautham Rao and the anonymous reviewers for Law and History Review. This article benefited from presentations to the University of Michigan Legal History Workshop and the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities, and from the assistance of the law librarians at The University of Pennsylvania and Vanderbilt law schools. Research assistance was provided by Jordyn McCarley and C. Alexander Peyton.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed