I'm pleased that Mayor Nutter has enacted Bill 130723, which amends Title 6, Title 17, and Title 20 of The Philadelphia Code by replacing references to "mental retardation" with references to "intellectual disability," all under certain terms and conditions. To my Council colleagues, I say thank you. Thank you for your unanimous, enthusiastic support of this measure.
Advocates and individuals with intellectual disabilities have rightfully asserted that the term "mental retardation" is both disparaging and hurtful. It is language that does not recognize the ability of those individuals that make us better by who they are and what they do every day. This change will be a celebration of those abilities.
The City now falls in line with our federal and state governments, as both use the more appropriate term of "intellectual disability." The City now demonstrates that we do not accept language that is exclusionary. It challenges our citizens to think differently about those with intellectual disabilities, and it honors the valuable contributions they've made to our society.
I would now like to speak about the indigent conflict counsel contract. Last week at the 11th hour, the Mayor wisely backed out of making a huge mistake with deep constitutional implications for the most vulnerable. I am glad I didn't have to go through with my plan to file a lawsuit with well-respected attorney Sam Stratton to stop the flawed plan. I am glad the Administration will start anew in an effort to provide legal representation to indigent clients when a conflict of interest exists that prohibits the Defenders Association from providing representation. But rebooting does not mean that the Mayor's vision is properly focused. Therefore, the process should move forward with more inclusive Council input.
On December 4th, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled that cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington in Washington state were responsible for the systemic deficiencies that deprive the accused indigent of their constitutional right to meaningful representation. In Joseph Wilbur versus City of Mount Vernon, the court granted injunctive relief and identified the foreseeable problems of a defective indigent defense system. The court found deprivations of constitutional rights, flaws with a flat contract fee method, and an absence of supervision and adherence to performance standards.
Nine out of ten expert witnesses at our October Law and Government Committee hearing into the Administration's plan highlighted systemic deficiencies and constitutional shortcomings. Additionally, the for-profit model the City seeks to implement does not seem to reconcile with the American Bar Association's Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System. I believe Philadelphia will be on the Wilbur versus City of Mount Vernon litigation path if we institute a model compromising constitutionally protected representation.
Therefore, I am pushing forward on the two measures I introduced related to this issue and look forward to the early February hearing dates. One measure will establish reporting and auditing requirements for certain contracts for conflict counsel for indigent individuals. The second measure proposes to amend the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter which will require Council approval for City contracts of one year or less for the purpose of providing legal representation and related services for indigent persons.
I am very comfortable staying on this course of action, because we need to preserve the constitutional rights of those most vulnerable and among us. Finally, I hope the Mayor will give Council and myself a seat at the table as this moves forward.
Thank you, Mr. President.