Book examines the history and contemporary role of Philadelphia's public defenders

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A book is out highlighting the history and role of public defenders in Philadelphia, connecting their evolution with present day movements.

"The Defender: The Battle to Protect the Rights of the Accused in Philadelphia" outlines the evolution of the public defenders' association, starting in 1934 with a Philadelphia attorney creating the Voluntary Defender Association, lawyers representing impoverished defendants. Now, the Defender Association of Philadelphia represents the majority of people charged with a crime.

Though the book navigates the history, it also highlights the association's role in society, according to Ben Lerner, a former city judge and former Philadelphia chief public defender, who was an advisor for the book.

"Criminal justice reform issues and police reform and accountability issues are really front-burner now," said Lerner. "The Defender Association was promoting these issues through its work long before they became popular, going all the way back to the 1970s."

He said Philadelphia played a pivotal role in the creation of recruiting, hiring and training models now used across the country.

The book was published by the Temple University Pess and was written by former Inquirer writer Michael Schaffer and former attorney Edward Madeira Jr., who sat on the association's board for 25 years — and died last spring.