By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Mayor Michael Nutter and the Defender Association of Philadelphia today celebrated the 50th anniversary of the landmark case that requires states to provide free counsel to poor criminal defendants.

(An oversized replica of Clarence Gideon's handwritten petition to the US Supreme Court was displayed at today's ceremony.  Credit: Cherri Gregg)

(An oversized replica of Clarence Gideon’s handwritten petition to the US Supreme Court was displayed at today’s ceremony. Credit: Cherri Gregg)

In 1961, Clarence Earl Gideon was charged with stealing money from a pool hall and faced prison time.  When a Florida court denied his request for a free defense lawyer, he appealed the case all the way to the US Supreme Court, and won in 1963.

The court unanimously ruled that states must provide counsel to indigent defendants facing loss of liberty.

“When we think of what’s happened over the past 50 years, it’s really been a sea change in terms of criminal justice in this country,” says civil rights attorney Dave Rudofsky, who stood with Mayor Nutter and Philadelphia’s chief public defender, Ellen Greenlee (top photo), beside an oversize replica of the handwritten petition Gideon submitted 50 years ago.

The mayor then read a proclamation congratulating the Philadelphia Defender Association, which has been providing free representation to Philadelphians for 80 years.

“They’ve stood in defense of the defenseless, championed those without a voice, and sent a message of fairness and equal treatment to all people who could hear,” Nutter said.

Philadelphia’s Defenders Association began as a volunteer organization, and today employs more than 200 attorneys.

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