Carmen Combs was a 1927 graduate of Yale Law School who began her career in Los Angeles by combining practice with a small firm and volunteer work as chief of the Domestic Relations Department of the city's Legal Aid Clinic. In 1937 she was appointed as Referee in Los Angeles Juvenile Court, where she served both regularly and on an "as needed" basis for the next 35 years. Meanwhile she worked on a variety of committees, commissions, and research projects devoted to the improvement of juvenile justice and the treatment of troubled or neglected children. Earl Warren first appointed Combs to his Governor's Advisory Committee on Children and Youth in 1947, a position which she retained through the governorships of Goodwin Knight and Pat Brown. As Chair of the Special Study Commission on Juvenile Crime, sponsored in 1957 by the Governor's Advisory Committee, she wrote a report on "California Children in Detention and Shelter Care" (3.7, 3.10, 7.2, 7.6, 8.2) and worked for its implementation on the "Subcommittee on Structure and Organization". On the Special Study Commission, Combs directed a survey of the administration of juvenile justice, which led to the repeal of California's existing juvenile court law, much of which had been in place since 1913, and the passage of a new law, effective on September 15, 1961, substantially embodying the recommendations of the Commission.
Combs' skills as a committee member and as an advocate in letters and presentations to state and county legislative bodies are apparent throughout the collection, as is her facility as a collaborator. Scattered through the files is her correspondence with contemporary leaders in the juvenile justice field in California, such as Karl Holton and Heman Stark, and with judges and officials across the country. In Los Angeles, Combs worked for improvement in public provision of protective services for abused and neglected children. Her concern for the conditions of juvenile detention evidently stemmed from a 1955 visit to the Los Angeles County Jail, following which she wrote a strong letter of protest to the County Board of Supervisors about the practice of routinely housing adolescent boys awaiting disposition of their cases with adult criminals. Combs served on the Los Angeles Grand Jury in 1956 and 1966, was chairman of the Los Angeles County Youth Committee, and of the Committee on Protective Services of the Los Angeles Bureau of Public Assistance, and her name appears on the rosters of many other short lived committees. As a career volunteer, among officials and politicians, her name on such listings is often followed by the designation - "Citizen At Large".