Allegheny County Controller Corey O’Connor has launched an audit of the Court of Common Pleas and the Office of the Public Defender examining how the County provides court-appointed legal representation for indigent criminal defendants. The audit will include how the County administers and funds these services, along with how it assigns counsel and compensates them.

“The right to effective legal representation for individuals who cannot afford a lawyer is a cornerstone of our justice system, but for many years, defendants, advocates, and attorneys themselves have questioned the adequacy of resources for indigent defense. This is a constitutional requirement and, as such, it’s crucial that attorneys who perform these important services are properly trained, paid, and resourced, and can devote adequate time and attention to each case,” O’Connor said. “Our audit will point the way toward needed reforms in our County’s indigent defense system.”

Among the topics to be examined in the audit:

  • Whether the County adheres to best practices for an indigent defense system established by the American Bar Association.
  • A sampling of attorney assignments and caseloads to assess compliance with established standards.
  • Comparing salaries and benefits of court-appointed defense attorneys and attorneys in the County’s Office of the Public Defender to corresponding positions in other jurisdictions, as well as the County’s Office of the District Attorney.
  • Determining if any year-end budget surpluses exist in Court operations.

“We look forward to this opportunity to recommend improvements to the County’s delivery of indigent defense services,” O’Connor said.