Court expands right to sue counties over public defenders

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Pennsylvania’s highest court will allow criminal defendants to sue counties over whether its public defender’s office is adequately funded to provide the constitutional right to an attorney.

Mary Catherine Roper of the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday called the ruling a victory, but not a final victory. The state Supreme Court’s ruling late Wednesday overturned a lower appellate court decision.

Roper says it means that criminal defendants now have an avenue to sue before their case is decided in an effort force counties to adequately fund the public defender’s office.

The case stemmed from a lawsuit filed in Luzerne County in 2012 alleging that funding and staffing were so low that defendants weren’t properly represented.

The ACLU says Pennsylvania is the only state that leaves public defender funding entirely up to county governments.

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