Of the Legal Staff
Funding for the legal representation of the poor is not funded at an "adequate level anywhere" in the United States, Ellen Greenlee, chief defender with the Defender Association of Philadelphia, said in an interview today.
Greenlee was speaking at an event in which Mayor Michael A. Nutter issued a proclamation honoring the association and the half-century since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright that state courts are required to provide counsel in criminal cases to defendants too poor to afford their own attorneys.
"The joy of the anniversary celebration is actually weakened by what is happening nationally," Greenlee said.
But Greenlee said she is heartened that addiction is no longer being treated largely as a criminal problem, but as a health problem.
But many more services need to be provided in the community so people with mental illness are not just housed in jails, Greenlee said.
Everett Gillison, deputy mayor of public safety and Nutter's chief of staff, said he wants to honor the legacy of Gideon in the city's requests for proposal for a new legal organization to handle the legal work representing indigent defendants and family-court litigations that the Defender Association is conflicted out of representing.
Gillison said there's a challenge in meeting the goals of Gideon because of the city's budgetary limitations, but "we'll struggle toward achieving justice."
The RFP has generated some controversy because some question whether the city has budgeted enough money to pay for a conflict counsel office when the private attorneys who now handle the conflict counsel appointments have not seen a raise in their rates in more than 20 years.
Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Kathleen Wilkinson, who spoke with The Legal at the same time as Giliison did, said the association is on the same page as the city in that the representation must be adequate. Wilkinson also said she is pleased that the city will have the bar association at the table to review some of the proposals.
When Nutter was introduced at the event by civil-rights attorney David Rudovsky, chair of the association's board, Rudovsky said the association needs more resources to meet the goals of Gideon and Nutter commented wryly: "Subtle."