The Original Defenders

The Harvard Defenders celebrated 50 years of serving indigent criminal defendants with a tribute to the original members of the group from the Class of 1950.

defenders (Summer 2000)

Credit: Tony Loreti

Five members were honored during Reunions weekend on April 29. Jack Litman ’67, honorary chairman of the event and a former Defender, presented commemorative plaques to (from left) Myron Boluch; Sam Dash, first chairman of the organization; Hershel Sarbin; A. Paul Goldblum; and Efrem Gordon (another original Defender, Sidney Paige, was unable to attend). Also recognized was Wilbur Hollingsworth (far right), who served as chief counsel of the Boston Voluntary Defenders Committee, which supervised the students’ work when the HLS group was launched. Litman called the honorees pioneers who assisted countless defendants – including one whose death sentence was commuted – nearly 15 years before attorneys were appointed at public expense to represent clients.

When it began in 1949, the Harvard Voluntary Defenders, as it was then known, primarily conducted jail interviews and investigations to help the Boston Volunteer Defenders at court hearings and trials. Third-year Defenders were later allowed to make court appearances on behalf of clients. Today, members of the group, which is the largest student-run clinical organization at HLS, represent clients in welfare fraud cases and show-cause hearings.