State senate considers costs of well-trained public defenders in Pa.

    A former public defender is warning lawmakers not to let Pennsylvania continue to be the only state that doesn’t help counties pay for legal counsel provided at no cost to poor adult criminal defendants and juveniles.

    A state Senate measure would spend one million dollars to help train the young lawyers that come to work as government-provided counsel to people who can’t afford to hire a lawyer for their defense.

    Al Flora, former chief public defender for Luzerne County, said it’s sorely needed.

    He was appointed shortly after judges were charged with accepting bribes to sentence juveniles to terms in detention centers, and says the public defender’s office in the county was severely lacking in resources.

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    “Without funding from the state to provide continuing resources to train these young lawyers that come into public defender offices, there will be failures.”

    Pennsylvania is the only state that doesn’t help fund indigent defense.

    Phyllis Subin, with the Pennsylvania Coalition for Justice, said the federal Department of Justice has been more aggressive lately on indigent defense systems, cracking down on cities and counties that don’t have well-funded public defenders offices.

    “We believe that that should not happen in PA and that by establishing this center that can provide internet-based resources and multiday training, leadership programming for chief public defenders in the counties, we can move Pennsylvania forward.”

    The chair of the Senate Judiciary panel said having poorly trained indigent defense lawyers also costs the Commonwealth.

    He said attorneys with inadequate training make mistakes, which lead to appeals and reversed court rulings.

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