By Amaris Elliott-Engel
Of the Legal Staff
The Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness has asked the state Supreme Court to work with the commission to increase diversity among the lawyers who are appointed to represent indigent criminal defendants not represented by public defenders, according to the commission's annual report released today.
Six committees of the commission work on policies and procedures to eliminate racial, ethnic and gender bias in the judiciary. The commission was created in 2005 after the state Supreme Court commissioned a study to examine the prevalence of racial and gender bias in Pennsylvania courts; that study was released in 2003.
Philadelphia Chief Defender Ellen Greenlee, who is serving on a state commission examining the issue of indigent defense in Pennsylvania, said during a meeting of the commission today that Pennsylvania is the only state in the United States that does not provide state funds for indigent defense.
The indigent-defense commission, which will release its report in the next few months, wants to "move it off the blackboard and onto the agenda of the state legislature."
Once the report is launched, Lisette M. McCormick, who is both the director of the commission for fairness and a member of the indigent defense commission, said that a statewide coalition will be formed to educate the public and legislators about how the lack of state funding for indigent defense results in deficient legal representation for defendants.
Speakers at the meeting today included Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Rudolph Garcia, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and Greenlee.
Williams said many Philadelphians of color feel that the criminal justice system is an oppressor of their communities, not protectors of them.
But in order to achieve fairness in the courts, criminal justice leaders have to focus on victims, Williams said.
But many victims are young black men who are just as likely to be shot as to be the shooter, Williams said. There is overlap between assailants and victims on the "Venn diagram" of crime in the city because the number one cause of death for young black men is homicide, Williams said.
Eight people were killed last weekend in Philadelphia, he said, which did not make headline news. But if eight tourists from Sweden had been killed while visiting Philadelphia, the city would be thrust into lockdown in order to solve gun violence, Williams said.
"When we think about fairness and justice we have to think that -- those men in that diagram -- that their lives are just as important," Williams said.
The Legal will have more coverage of the latest report from the commission in an upcoming section of its Pennsylvania Law Weekly section.
Amaris Elliott-Engel is a reporter for The Legal. She can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @AmarisTLI.