Creating a Model for a More Independent Public Defenders Office

The Systemic Justice Project published “Strengthening the Office of the Public Defender – Analysis and Recommendations for Montgomery County.” The report was produced at the request of the Montgomery County (PA) Board of Commissioners by Systemic Justice Clinic students Colton Brown, Celia Givens, Terence Jones, and Jacqueline Winton under the supervision of Professor Shanda Sibley, with review and feedback from Professors Jules Epstein, Lauren Ouziel, and Robert Schwartz.  The County selected Temple for the task of identifying critical needs and proposing best practices within Pennsylvania’s existing legal framework for indigent defense.  This Final Report follows public feedback after release of an initial draft.

“The students produced a comprehensive and insightful report that gives the Board of Commissioners and the Office of the Public Defender a broad base of information about best practices of public defender systems nationwide, and a comparative analysis of structures that have been implemented throughout America to improve the provision of indigent defense,” Sibley said.  “We hope that the recommendations included in the Report, if implemented, will both improve the practices of the Board of Commissioners and increase the independence of the public defender’s office. It was not an easy task, but the students absolutely rose to the challenge and exceeded all expectations.” Sibley said that she could not be prouder of the work done by the clinic and supporting faculty members.

Included in the report are eleven recommendations designed to address three significant points of concern: independence of the Defender’s Office, funding considerations, and litigation and risk mitigation. The report also identifies national public defense standards published by the American Bar Association and the National Association for Public Defenders as well as juvenile justice and defense standards from the Institute of Judicial Administration, American Bar Association, National Association of Counsel for Children, and National Juvenile Defender Center. It concludes by highlighting how changes to Pennsylvania’s legal framework for indigent defense would offer even greater opportunities to improve practices not only in Montgomery County, but across the Commonwealth.