Sheldon Portman Papers (Coll. 54)
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The bulk of this collection consists of the papers of Portman's lawsuit against the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, which ensued just before he was dismissed from his position in December of 1986. The collection also contains the papers of Branson v. Winter (1981), a case concerning jail overcrowding, and papers related to the Sentencing Resource Project, a project that sought to use paralegals to develop alternative plans to incarceration in appropriate cases in order to reduce the jail population. Other materials found in the collection consist of papers of professional organizations and professional activities in which Portman was involved.
Summary Biography: Sheldon Portman was born in 1929. He spent his childhood in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned a B.A. form Kent State University in 1952, and an LL.B. from Case Western Reserve University in 1954. Portman was admitted to the State Bar of Ohio in 1954, and the State Bar of California in 1960. Early in his career, Portman participated in the first trial of Dr. Sam Sheppard, the suburban Osteopath accused of murdering his pregnant wife. As a result of that experience Portman was inspired to pursue a career in criminal law. Portman opened a private law practice in Cleveland in 1954; however, he left his practice the next year when the U.S. Army appointed him Counsel in Special Courts-Martial. In 1957 Portman resumed his practice in Cleveland. Portman first went to work for Santa Clara County, California in 1961. He began as Deputy District Attorney, and in 1965 he became Chief Assistant Public Defender for Santa Clara County. In 1968 Portman became the Public Defender of Santa Clara County. He remained in that position until he was fired in December of 1986. After leaving the Santa Clara County Public Defender's Office, Portman taught as an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and ultimately resumed his private practice of law. Portman has been active in several professional organizations. He is a member of the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association. He has also served on the Executive Committee of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and as President of the California Public Defenders' Association. Throughout his career Portman has received several awards including the Justice Byrl R. Salsman Award (1973) from the Santa Clara County Bar Association for outstanding services on behalf of the county bar, particularly in the area of criminal justice; the New County Achievement Award (1973) from the National Association of Counties for maintaining an outstanding public defender program; and the Reginald Heber Smith Award (1983) from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association for contributions to improving improving delivery of indigent defense services. Sheldon Portman was the Public Defender of Santa Clara County, California, from 1968 to 1986. In a public budget hearing in mid-1985 Portman claimed that his office was so understaffed that it could not fulfill its constitutional obligation to defend indigent criminals, and therefore was at risk of being sued for legal malpractice. The County complied by giving Portman more lawyers, but likewise reprimanded him for his statements, because they were made in a public forum. Later in 1985 Portman received a very meager pay increase as an additional punishment for his comments. By December Portman filed suit against the County on the grounds that the County Board of Supervisors had violated his civil rights by trying to stop him from exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. The case was finally resolved in 1994.
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