NLADA & ACCD Joint Statement Regarding the Firing of Montgomery County, PA Chief and Deputy Chief Public Defenders

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Release Date: 
Friday, February 28, 2020

Contact: Sharon Singh, [email protected]; [email protected]

NLADA & ACCD Joint Statement Regarding the Firing of Montgomery County, PA Chief and Deputy Chief Public Defenders

The dismissal this week of two public defense leaders in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania highlighted the importance of the independence of the public defense function. Public defenders must be able to advance the best interests of their clients and push for systems that are fair for everyone. These obligations require leaders to be free from unwarranted political interference with the mandated independence of a public defender office. 

The first principle of public defense promulgated by the American Bar Association (ABA), widely understood to be a necessary component of compliance with the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, is:

The public defense function should be independent from political and judicial influence.

Justice cannot be ensured when clients are represented by lawyers who cannot make independent decisions without fear of reprisal. The U.S. Supreme Court has made this clear in a long line of cases. This incident appears to illustrate the necessity of national standards on public defense independence.  National standards, including the ABA Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System, recommend that a nonpartisan public defense board hold the responsibility for hiring and, if appropriate, removing a chief defender, and for providing oversight for the agency. The Law Office of the Montgomery County Public Defender lacks such an independent board.

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) and the American Council of Chief Defenders (ACCD) stand with and champion defense leaders in Montgomery County and across the nation who refuse to abandon their duty to uphold the Constitution and protect the rights of their clients. We call on governments across the country to respect the independence of the defense function, which is critical to the fair administration of justice, especially for low-income communities and communities of color, which are disproportionately represented in the justice system. 

We also urge local leaders to reconsider this action and work with the defender leaders so that together they can ensure the right to counsel is supported by the most effective structures and processes possible. Montgomery County residents should be able to rely on the public defenders’ office to protect their rights, above all other interests. This is what anyone who needs an attorney should expect, as well as what national standards require.

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NLADA is the nation’s oldest and largest non-profit organization devoted to excellence in the delivery of legal services to those who cannot afford counsel. ACCD is a national community of public defense leaders dedicated to securing a fair justice system and ensuring high quality legal representation for people facing loss of life, freedom, or family.

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