City Council Approves Conflict Counsel Bills
Philadelphia City Council has unanimously approved a legislative package that would affect the city's plan to establish a conflict counsel entity to represent indigent defendants in criminal cases.
The legislation was put forth by Councilman Dennis O'Brien, who has opposed the idea of a for-profit conflict counsel agency since the city put out its initial RFP. The Nutter administration has since rebooted the bid for conflict counsel after canceling its notice of intent to contract to criminal defense lawyer Daniel-Paul Alva earlier this year.
"I think this passage ensures that there will be a new conversation about this important subject with this administration and with future administrations," O'Brien told The Legal.
"I still have major concerns for any for-profit model," O'Brien added, "but I believe an inclusive transparent conversation on how to best serve the needs of the indigent is the most important issue at hand."
Mayor Michael A. Nutter's press secretary, Mark McDonald, said the mayor has until March 6 to notify City Council as to whether he will sign or veto the legislation.
McDonald did not specify Nutter's intentions for the legislation, but noted, "We did not support this in testimony before City Council."
The first two pieces of legislation consist of changes to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter. Bill No. 130851 is the ballot question and Resolution No. 130861 is its accompanying resolution. The portion of the charter the bills deal with is the leasing of office space—in this case for an indigent defense agency.
"Currently, Section 2-309 of the charter titled 'Leases and Contracts' states, 'The council may by ordinance authorize the leasing of real estate for more than one year and the contracting for personal property to be supplied or for services to be rendered over a period of more than one year,'" O'Brien had said in his remarks at a Feb. 4 Law and Government Committee hearing. "As a result, City Council has no authority to review contracts that the administration enters into when the length of the contract is for one year or less."
O'Brien added that while the committee agrees with the section of the charter for the most part, he stipulated, "I do strongly believe that any contract dealing with an individual's constitutional rights is important enough to require council approval."
The amendment to the charter would also require contracts pertaining to legal representation of the indigent of more than $100,000 to be reviewed by City Council before being approved. O'Brien said in his remarks that the monetary stipulation was included to make sure only large contracts are considered, effectively excluding private attorneys who currently provide court-appointed representation to the indigent.