March 4—On February 26, Montgomery County Commissioners fired the leaders of the County’s Public Defenders Office, Chief Dean Beer and Deputy Chief Keisha Hudson. The firing came shortly after the County forced the Defenders Office to withdraw an amicus brief that described in distressing detail the unfairness and harm caused by the County’s cash bail practices. After the firing, officials complained about the brief, as well as internal research about police officers’ Facebook posts, as an “improper use of resources.”
The work of the Defenders should be cause for admiration, not punishment. They shined a light on institutions and practices that hurt people. This use of these effective, strategic legal tools to overcome systemic barriers to justice makes the criminal justice system fairer for their clients and is a vital component of our adversarial system of justice.
As lawyers who fight poverty and discrimination through systemic legal action, we at the Public Interest Law Center well understand that many legal barriers cannot be addressed on a client-by-client basis. Rather, entrenched practices that hurt people often require lawyers to attack the status quo through systemic legal tools. The people of Montgomery County were lucky that their public defenders understand this too. As ACLU of Pennsylvania Executive Director Reggie Shuford said in a statement on the dismissals, Chief Beer and Deputy Chief Hudson “put words into action in enacting meaningful changes that sought to reduce mass incarceration in Montgomery County.”
We join organizations across the region in expressing our deep concern and outrage about these firings. The very first words of the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Responsibility could be used to describe these lawyers: “A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having a special responsibility for the quality of justice.” These lawyers fulfilled that “special responsibility;” Montgomery County’s actions threaten to chill it.
We urge the Montgomery County Commissioners to reconsider their decision and reinstate these dedicated public servants. On Thursday, March 5, the ACLU and other community advocates have organized a rally outside of the next meeting of the Montgomery County Commissioners for 10 a.m. at 1 Montgomery Plaza, Norristown, PA. Constituents can reach the commissioners office at 610-278-3020 to express their concerns.