Last week, two reports came out decrying the abysmal state of the county public defender’s office. [PG on Joint State Government Report; Trib on ACLU report.] This “stepchild” of local government was called out for, among other things, attorneys who fail to show up in court, not keeping indigent defendants informed as to important details like who is representing them in court, and not providing enough pens for the attorneys to use. Pennsylvania is the only state that provides zero funding for the local public defender programs, and apparently it shows.
You’ll recall that on the same day these reports came out, charges were dismissed against one public defender for contempt of court after the defendant opted not show up to defend an indigent defendant because of a conflict with a paying case. The judge basically said that while this conduct was unacceptable, so were the working conditions for public defenders and dismissed the charges. In short, it seems terrible.
The Trib now reports that Allegheny County Councilmembers are asking leaders to explain this dire state of affairs to the Council. They will introduce a motion requesting this meeting on November 1.
Here’s hoping that the brouhaha results in funding for more attorneys, more mentoring of junior attorneys, and more &*# pens for attorneys. As our most irate commenter of last week pointed out, the last thing the county needs is yet another study pointing out the problems in the office.
Side note: Follow us at @ThirdChair on the Twitter, if you are into that sort of thing. Thanks.