Transcripts of full meetings of the council.

Thank you, Mr. President. The right to counsel is a fundamental procedural safeguard guaranteed under the Bill of Rights to all persons accused of a crime who are unable to afford a lawyer. In the landmark case Gideon versus Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the fundamental role that legal representation plays in a fair criminal justice system.

On November 14th, 2013, I introduced with co-sponsor Councilman Greenlee a three-piece package of legislation regarding indigent representation, which is not limited to criminal counsel but also extends to dependency cases. They were recently referred out of committee and are before all of Council today.

The first two pieces of legislation are a change to The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter. Bill No. 130851 is the ballot question and Resolution 130861 is the accompanying resolution. Currently, Section 2-309 of the Charter, titled "Leases and Contracts," states that Council may by ordinance authorize the leasing of real estate for more than one year and the contracting for personal property to be supplied or for services to be rendered over a period of more than one year. As a result, City Council has no authority to review contracts that the Administration enters into when the length of the contract is for one year or less.

I do not believe that every contract should require City Council approval. However, I do strongly believe that any contract dealing with an individual's constitutional rights is important enough to require Council approval.

I understand that amending the Home Rule Charter is not an action to be taken lightly, but these contracts are of such importance that an exception to the Charter is not only required but is in the best interest of the City.

The right to counsel is a constitutionally protected right. The contract that the Administration eventually plans to issue an RFP for and sign deals directly with this constitutionally protected right. The Charter amendment will not prohibit the Administration from entering into a contract. It will just require a public forum to be able to review the contract and get the answers before any contract is signed. Without this legislation, there is zero public input.

My proposed narrow amendment to the Charter requires that all contracts for rendering of services for a year or less that involve the expenditures of more than $100,000 for the purpose of providing legal representation and related services for the indigent may only be made when permitted by ordinance. This provision applies to the contracts, renewals, and extensions. In order to make the amendment as narrow as possible so as not to open the floodgates of Council approval for every contract, I did the following:

One, put a monetary threshold for over -- for every contract over a hundred thousand dollars; two, specifically state that this amendment only applies to contracts dealing with the legal representation of the indigent, and the monetary amount is necessary to make sure that only large contracts are considered. As a result, this excludes individual private attorneys who are currently providing legal representation to the indigent by being court-appointed conflict counsel. However, the monetary amount includes the Philadelphia Defenders Association, Support Center for Child Advocates, Community Legal Services. Because these organizations have been successfully contracted with the City for many years, they are exempt from the review requirement unless Council provides an ordinance to the contrary.

The third piece of legislation, Bill No. 130852, is an ordinance that requires audits of the law firm or entity that the City enters into a contract with for the representation of the indigent. There are two audits - a financial audit and a quality control audit. The financial audit is standard and encompasses what Council already asks of many other departments during the budget process. The quality control audit will be performed by an independent auditor who is familiar with indigent defense systems and the Philadelphia criminal justice system.

The legislative intent behind this ordinance is to make sure that the level of representation for the indigent is up to the national standards. Many of these quality controls are prescribed and recommended by the American Bar Association. I believe we are ensuring that Philadelphia lives up to those standards and principles in every aspect of our indigent defense delivery system.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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