Phila. Conflict Counsel Contract Set to Be Awarded

, The Legal Intelligencer

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Philadelphia City Hall

The city of Philadelphia has named the lawyer to whom a contract is set to be awarded for the creation of a for-profit firm to represent indigent defendants in criminal cases where the Public Defender's Office has a conflict.

Criminal defense attorney Daniel-Paul Alva of Philadelphia-based Alva & Associates has been named as the "chosen candidate" on the city's notice of intent to contract listed on its "e-contract Philly" website Friday.

The notice did not specify as to whether Alva and the city had signed the contract as of yet. As of press time, Alva said he could not comment. Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison, managing director Richard Negrin and Director of Public Safety Michael Resnick did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

The request for proposals for the contract has been the subject of extended debate among City Hall officials and members of Philadelphia's legal community. Questions were raised not only about the viability of the proposed firm, but also the transparency of the RFP process.

In particular, city Councilman Dennis O'Brien has been a staunch opponent of the notion of a for-profit legal entity representing indigent defendants.

Of the notice of intent, O'Brien told The Legal, "This is a nuclear meltdown of the system." O'Brien added that his office would be evaluating legal options such as pursuing the matter in state or federal court.

"I'm disappointed, I thought we would have an opportunity to review this," O'Brien said. "The arrogance that they're going to do this without giving any word to council is outrageous."

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.

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