Back to Square One for Conflict Counsel Contract

, The Legal Intelligencer

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picture of man hands signing contract

In a Dec. 18 letter addressed to Mayor Michael A. Nutter provided to The Legal by O'Brien's office, O'Brien urged Nutter to restart the conflict counsel process.

In the letter, O'Brien referenced a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington outlining the responsibility of local governments to provide indigent defense. He said in that ruling the court ruled two cities "were responsible for the systematic deficiencies that deprived the indigent of their constitutional right to meaningful representation."

According to O'Brien, the court in Wilbur v. City of Mount Vernon found deprivations in constitutional rights, flaws with a flat-fee contract method, and absence of supervision and performance standards in those cities' indigent defense programs. O'Brien added that the proposed system in Philadelphia was on a similar path.

O'Brien also pointed out in his letter that several witnesses who testified at the Oct. 7 City Council law and government committee hearing found similar deficiencies in the proposed model.

The Legal reported that, at that hearing, Gillison defended the proposed legal organization.

"We're looking at a model for delivery that will provide for the city," Gillison said before the committee. "This matter, I believe, will be a good thing for the legal community and for poor people in general. I know what all the concerns are; a lot of them, I think, are completely unfounded."

O'Brien alleged during the hearing that the entire RFP process lacked transparency and significant communication between Gillison and the council about the specifics of the project.

"I personally made phone calls to you and they were not returned," O'Brien had said to Gillison. "Emails were sent to you and they were not recognized. ... I have yet to see that proposal." O'Brien also questioned why the contract would only be awarded for one year, as many criminal cases take more than a year to resolve. Gillison had responded that the city charter prevented a multiyear contract.

Gillison had maintained that the process was undertaken with transparency, but certain aspects of the RFP could not be discussed.

"We have tried to be as apparent and overly transparent as possible," Gillison had said. "This is a process that has been extremely inclusive and extremely collegial. What I'm trying to do is solve a pressing issue we have before us."

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