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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: March 5, 2020 08:59 AM
From: Representative Tim Briggs
To: All House members
Subject: Public Defender Independence
One of the pillars of our criminal justice system is that an accused has the right to effective counsel. It is fundamental that every attorney, including public defenders, zealously represent the interests of each client and assert the constitutional and statutory rights of their client base. In fact, the Rules of Professional Conduct refer to the responsibility of each attorney to zealously assert the client’s position.

Attorneys who fail to do so can properly be disbarred. Additionally, this legislature has recognized the responsibility of each attorney to fully represent the client by enacting the Post Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa.C.S. 9541 et seq., in which performance of defense counsel is often comprehensively reviewed in separate proceedings, often resulting in resentencing or even a new trial.

The independence of Public Defender Offices has traditionally been respected. That independence is based on the principle that they represent the interests of each client.

When the general public, or clients of the Public Defender Office, believe that independence is compromised, the administration of justice breaks down.

Troubling reports from my county (https://www.inquirer.com/news/montgomery-county-public-defender-dean-beer-independence-20200302.html) have caused me to review statutory provisions of the Public Defender Act specifically as it relates to the independence of each Public Defender Office.

I will be preparing legislation to clearly protect the independence of Public Defender Offices from interference by those who may compromise that independence. We simply must ensure they are able to fulfill their ethical, legal and moral obligations as well as their oath to practice law.

Please join me in cosponsoring this legislation.