The late Hugo Black, Justice of the United States Supreme Court, has stated: "There can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has." This is the guiding philosophy of the men and women of the Oklahoma County Public Defender's Office.
In 1963, the United States Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright held that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel applies to the states through the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. Argersinger v. Hamlin extended this right to misdemeanor cases, and In re Gault extended the right to juveniles.
The Oklahoma County Public Defender's Office is established by statute, 19 O.S. § 138.1 et seq., to provide representation to the indigent. The current Public Defender is Robert Ravitz, who assumed that job in July of 1987.
The Public Defender's Office has responsibility for numerous types of cases. The office comprises several divisions, including a Felony Division, a Misdemeanor Division, an Appellate Division, a Juvenile Division, and a Civil Division. The Felony Division handled approximately 4,400 new felony criminal cases and 2,400 probation revocation cases in Oklahoma County in fiscal year 2006. The Misdemeanor Division handled approximately 1,400 new cases. The Appellate Division appeals cases in which the Public Defender has lost the case at trial. The Juvenile Public Defender Division handles cases involving deprived and delinquent children, and the Civil Division handles contempts and adoptions and acts as guardian ad litem in hundreds of divorce cases annually.
All assistants in the Public Defender's Office are hired by and serve at the pleasure of the Public Defender. Salaries are set by the Chief Public Defender according to a salary structure and are comparable to the salaries of assistant district attorneys.
Our lawyers' attendance at numerous training and criminal law seminars demonstrates our commitment to excellence in trial work and appellate work. Public defenders have recently attended trial-training seminars in Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Nevada, California, and Wyoming, in addition to numerous local and in-house seminars presented by the Oklahoma Bar Association, criminal justice organizations, and our office.
A public defender must care about people-the mentally ill, the abused, the friendless, the poor, the downtrodden, and the defenseless. The Oklahoma County Public Defender's Office strives for the commitment to equal justice. There is a dedication and camaraderie in this office unparalleled in any other office. When an assistant loses a case, the office loses a case; when an assistant wins a case, the office wins a case.
While the Public Defender's Office has structured, weekly meetings wherein cases and legal issues are discussed, and a lawyer must have a supervisory lawyer with him at trial for the first ten trials, to a large degree, when you're in the courtroom, you are your own boss. You mature quickly as a Public Defender. You must be courageous enough to represent people who may not be liked by a large portion of the population. You must be dedicated to the commitment of preserving individual liberties. You must have the willingness and strength to get into the courtroom as an underdog and fight for your client so that the concept of equal justice under law will be more than a saying, but a fact.