Parker Thomson is a hero to those who have long struggled to assure that America’s poor receive equal justice under the law.
Parker’s obituary in the Miami Herald Nov. 5, “The man behind the Arsht Center dies at 85,” rightfully described him as a visionary and an ardent supporter of the arts. I and the Public Defender family knew him as a tenacious lawyer, whose legacy as a true champion of indigent defense is unparalleled.
Parker’s extraordinary support to Public Defenders spanned three decades. In 2008, when crippling caseloads impaired our ability to provide effective assistance to our indigent clients, he volunteered to represent our office for free.
In a landmark decision, the Florida Supreme Court decided in our favor, accepting nearly all of Parker’s arguments. Through brilliance, superb preparation, dedication of significant time and resources, and a sustained effort, the right to counsel in Florida now means significantly more than just having a warm body stand next to an indigent defendant in court.
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The court recognized that Public Defenders have the same professional obligations to their clients as attorneys in private practice and that when there is substantial risk that an excessive caseload will force a Public Defender to choose between clients, relief is required.
Twenty years earlier, Parker vigorously defended the elected Public Defenders’ independence, professional discretion and ability to raise constitutional claims on behalf of our clients in state and federal courts. I will never forget his passionate presentation in the Supreme Court, where it is customary for lawyers to be reserved and dispassionate. Not Parker.
His legacy as a passionate defender of the Constitution and the poor will live on. Much work remains to be done, and we need other Parkers to rise to the challenge to make our justice system worthy of its name.
Carlos J. Martinez,