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Proposal to overhaul ‘conflict counsel’ causing conflict in Philadelphia

The city of Philadelphia is trying to organize a backup to the public defender office.

Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison, a former public defender himself, says there are up to 30,000 cases each year of poor people who cannot be represented by a Philadelphia public defender because of a conflict of interest.

Instead of judges appointing attorneys case by case, the city is asking for bids to represent all those defendants.Gillison says such as coordinated arrangement could work better than independent attorneys.

“We believe in that providing additional services and requiring additional services that we will be able to raise the level of training and raise the level (of service) to individual indigent clients for social services, for additional investigators,” he said.

The city currently spends about $10 million a year on the “conflict counsel.” Gillison says putting them under one roof and working together makes sense.

“Savings is not the key. The key here is to improve services,” he said. “I believe that if we have a more efficient way of delivering services, we can have savings.”

Opponents of the plan, including those who now represent those defendants, are considering court action to stop the proposal.

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