Erle Stanley Gardner (July 17, 1889 – March 11, 1970) was an American lawyer and author. He is best known for the Perry Mason series of mystery stories. Perhaps the greatest mystery is how Gardner had the time and energy to be a prolific author while working full time as an attorney.
Gardner started his legal career by working as a typist at a law firm in California for three years. Once he was admitted to the Bar, he started working as a trial lawyer by defending impoverished people, in particular Chinese and Mexican immigrants. This experience led to his founding the Court of Last Resort in the 1940s. The Court of Last Resort, dedicated to helping people who were imprisoned unfairly or couldn't get a fair trial, was the first of several organizations that advocate for the wrongly convicted, which among others include The Innocence Project, Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and Centurion.
Gardner devoted thousands of hours to the Court of Last Resort, in collaboration with his many friends in the forensic, legal, and investigative communities. The project sought to review and, when appropriate, reverse miscarriages of justice against criminal defendants who had been convicted because of poor legal representation, abuse, misinterpretation of forensic evidence, or careless or malicious actions of police or prosecutors. The resulting 1952 book earned Gardner his only Edgar Award, in the Best Fact Crime category, and was later made into a TV series, The Court of Last Resort.
Below is a dramatization of one of The Court of Last Resort's cases which led the exoneration of a homeless man on death row.