PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — When the Portsmouth Confederate monument fell in the aftermath of the death of motorist George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, public defenders in Portsmouth took a stand against racism and oppression.

That day in history follows another day in history, March 18, 1963, when the Supreme Court, took a stand in the case titled Gideon vs. Wainwright. In a unanimous ruling, the court set the stage for the nation’s public defender system.

(Photo Courtesy: Office of the Portsmouth Public Defender)

Justice Hugo L. Black wrote that a defendant who doesn’t have a lawyer ..” faces the danger of conviction because he does not know how to establish his innocence.”

Sixty years later, indigent defendants are represented by public defenders who are often overworked and underpaid.

Challenges aside, the Portsmouth public defender’s office continues with its mission, which is literally the writing on the wall in the office just outside downtown Portsmouth. It reads: “Dedicated to Protecting and Defending the Rights and Dignity of our Clients through Zealous, Compassionate, High-Quality Legal Advocacy.”

“We want your questions, we want your concerns, we want to help,” said Althea Mease, chief public defender for the city of Portsmouth. “That’s what we’re here for.”

(WAVY Photo/Regina Mobley)

The office is preparing for a free Saturday morning block party to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Gideon. Office investigator Antwane Corprew is drumming up publicity for the celebration.

“We’re going have a Karaoke party; we are going to have a band, the I.C. Norcom band, a lot of public figures will be here,” said Corprew, a former sheriff’s deputy who is on the front lines in seeking the truth in criminal cases. “With the Black-on-Black crime and everything that’s going on, we want to shed a light on the city,” Corprew said.

The block party will also offer a helping hand to those who have paid their debt to society.

“We’re going to have people here helping them fill out [job] applications,” Corprew said. “There are going to be businesses [on site] that hire felons. We want to show that we are a pillar here and you can come to us and we can help you.

Want to go?

The Portsmouth Public Defender’s Office will hold a free, family-friendly Block Party from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday to celebrate the Gideon decision that set the stage for the nation’s public defender system. The event takes place at 1 Guardian Court in Portsmouth. For more information, see the office’s Facebook Page.