By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A prominent criminal defense attorney is considering taking the Nutter Administration to court over its plans to revamp how attorneys are appointed to handle cases in which the defendant has no money.
When the Philadelphia Public Defender’s Association cannot take an indigent defendant’s case because of a conflict, the cases are now given to private attorneys.
This happens in about one-third of all such cases, put at upwards of 30,000 cases a year. But the Nutter Administration wants to establish a new ‘conflict counsel’ office to handle them instead.
“Instead of having individual attorneys being the secondary option for courts to appoint, whenever the Defender office has a conflict, we would end up appointing an office, a structured office that would end handling a lot of the cases,” says former public defender Everett Gillison, who is the mayor’s chief of staff.
Gillison says this would provide efficiencies for the cash-strapped court system, and improve the quality of services given to the poor defendants:
“We will be able to raise the level of training, and raise the level that is given to individual clients for social services, for additional investigators. This administration believes that it is a way of advancing the cause of justice for people who happen to need it.”
But attorney Sam Stretton, who has represented many court-appointed defendants, says the mayor simply wants to cut costs:
“The city is not doing this to help indigents. They’re doing this because they think they can get a cheaper system. And that’s wrong.”
Stretton says the new conflict counsel system would cut out about 100 or so attorneys who have years of experience defending the poor:
“People aren’t going to get good litigators. Why would you want to destroy this core group of lawyers who have devoted their lives to indigent defense? They just don’t care. They care about numbers. They care about moving cases.”
And Stretton says he might file a federal suit to stop the Administration from implementing the new system.