Hamilton Burger is the fictional Los Angeles district attorney (D.A.) in the long-running series of novels, films, and radio and television programs featuring Perry Mason, the fictional defense attorney created by Erle Stanley Gardner. Burger's name may be a play on "hamburger," which is what Perry Mason usually made out of the District Attorney's cases.
Hamilton Burger first appears in the 10th chapter of Gardner's 1935 novel, The Case of the Counterfeit Eye, where he is described as "a broad-shouldered, thick-necked individual with a close-cropped moustache." Gardner describes Burger in the cast of characters of that novel as an "honest but stubborn" D.A. In the 15th chapter of The Case of the Caretaker's Cat, we learn that Burger's residential address is 3297 West Lakeside, and his phone number is Exposition 96949.
Burger is one of literature's losing-est district attorneys, and critics have suggested that he must have been the most incompetent lawyer in history (see Mad Magazine's parody, "The Day Perry Mason Lost a Case"). Burger's cases inevitably involved prosecuting the wrong person, who was defended by Mason, who, in the end, revealed the true criminal through a series of inadmissible courtroom tricks. Burger's bag of tricks was comparatively empty, chiefly comprising indignant exclamations of, "Incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial!" Once Mason had outed the true perpetrator, Burger always joined in Mason's motion to the judge to dismiss the charges against Mason's client so that Burger could then charge the actual wrongdoer. A scene from the television series in which Mason consoles Burger after such a dismissal inspired a young Sonia Sotomayor to become a prosecutor.
Burger was portrayed (in the long-running original Perry Mason television series) by William Talman, who was replaced briefly after he was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and indecent exposure. Talman returned to the show after all charges against him were dropped.
Burger did defeat Mason twice on the television series; once in "The Case of the Terrified Typist" and again in "The Case of the Deadly Verdict". In addition, in "The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe", Burger figured out the true culprit (after some nudging in the right direction by Mason). In the television series, the closest Burger gets to having Perry Mason arrested is when he has Mason cited for causing a trash fire within city limits (part of Mason's plan to free an innocent client).
- Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Counterfeit Eye (1935), and about eighty more novels by this author.
- Gardner, Erle Stanley, Case of the Caretaker's Cat, New York, William Morrow, 1935, chapter 15, page 237
- CNN: Sotomayor: “Perry Mason” episode influenced her to become a prosecutor