At least one bid has been made to create a for-profit legal organization in Philadelphia to represent indigent defendants in criminal cases where the Defender Association of Philadelphia has a conflict.
In the wake of the Philadelphia city government’s assumption of responsibility for the payment of private attorneys appointed in criminal and family cases, the Mayor Michael A. Nutter administration is seeking "creative and innovative" proposals on legal representation in cases in which the Defender Association of Philadelphia has a conflict.
Daniel-Paul Alva, of Alva & Associates, confirmed that others and he put together a bid involving 30 attorneys and with openings for 10 more.
"We’re very confident our proposal has the best attorneys for the best price to the city," Alva said.
While other people have talked about putting together a package of subcontract attorneys to work out of their own offices, Alva said such a model would provide no oversight over attorneys. His proposal, he said, would have a central location under one roof and would be run to meet the same level of standards as the Defender Association of Philadelphia displays, Alva said.
Alva confirmed that Scott DiClaudio, an attorney who was placed on one-year probation April 28, 2011, for failing to file an appellate brief on time, who was informally admonished in 2003 for failure to file a statement of matters complained of on appeal, and who was informally admonished in 2008 "for making false and misleading statements" to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel as well as failing to provide a written fee agreement to a client, is involved in the project.
But Alva said that DiClaudio would not be involved in legal work and only on the business and administrative side. DiClaudio is a "businessman of a highest order," Alva said. He further said that he would not put his reputation, gained after being involved with the Philadelphia Bar Association for many years, on the line on a bid if he thought the bid was problematic.
DiClaudio did not respond to a request for comment.
While some have said that the amount the city has allotted for court-appointed conflict counsel is not enough, Alva also said that he and his co-bidders would not have submitted a bid if they did not think there was enough money to pay for representation in both criminal and family-court cases.
Vigorous, high-quality representation "is a highest priority. We want to make sure the people who are being represented are getting very good representation," Alva said. "It’s not just about making a buck."
The deadline for proposals is FridayFebruary 22.
Kathleen Wilkinson, chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, said that she formed a task force, including representatives from the criminal justice and family law bars, regarding the RFP.
Wilkinson said that in meetings with Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison that "we emphasized that we want there to be quality representation" that complies with American Bar Association standards.
Members of the bar have been raising the issue that the amount that is available in the budget for court-appointed conflict counsel is not enough, Wilkinson said.
"Of course, one would always want to see the best possible amount to be spent for indigent defense," Wilkinson said.
Cathy Carr, executive director of Community Legal Services and who was appointed to the bar association’s taskforce, said that when she was one of the presenters recently to the association’s board of governors that she emphasized the bar association needs to care and does care about the quality of representation that is going on in family court by appointed counsel, and that "with very low amounts of money being paid to represent people in family court" it is very difficult to provide a lot of assistance, particularly to parents, in the dependency system.
CLS also represents parents in the dependency system, and that work can be "very, very demanding," Carr said.
"If you can’t pay an attorney enough to give the time that the case needs, then that right [to have counsel] really becomes worth very little," Carr said, noting that the RFP does not call for any additional funds for counsel.
Michael Resnick, an attorney who is the director of public safety, said in an interview with The Legal in December that the impetus for the RFP was that the city wants to have a more efficient model than the current one in which thousands of individual appointments are made every budget year.
Resnick said that if the conflict counsel was not provided on an individualized basis, that processing the payments would be less "overwhelming for staff."
Resnick also suggested another model in which the city could hire someone else to manage the payment process.
Resnick also said in December he is aware of complaints made by members of the bar that the payments under the guaranteed fee system have been less than adequate, but he said the administration does not have plans to address the payment levels until after the Supreme Court finalizes its decision in a case challenging the constitutionality of pay for private attorneys appointed in capital death cases.
Nutter’s press office did not respond to a request for comment.
From July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011, there were 22,441 appointments in family court, criminal cases, Orphans’ Court, Municipal Court and Traffic Court made for attorneys.
Of those appointments, 15,659 were made in family court, 4,230 were made in criminal cases, 2,354 in Municipal Court, 136 in Traffic Court and 62 in Orphans’ Court.
There were 193 expert witnesses appointed, and 877 investigators were appointed for the same time period.
During the 2011-12 budget year, over $8.6 million was spent on court-appointed counsel.