First Posted: 7/26/2013
WILKES-BARRE – In a letter penned to 13 county judges, a defense attorney outlines increasing caseloads in Luzerne County’s conflict counsel pool and suggests at least one way to alleviate the problem.
Attorney John Pike, who works as a private criminal and civil attorney as well as part of the county’s conflict counsel pool of attorneys, said in an April 24 letter his caseload has become “administratively overwhelming.”
He is concerned his clients might become affected because he is being spread thin, he said.
The county’s conflict counsel pool consists of attorneys who represent indigent defendants when the Public Defender’s Office has a conflict.
Pike’s letter accompanied a request Friday to be removed from the homicide case of William Allabaugh, 25, of Plymouth, who is charged with shooting and killing 39-year-old Scott Luzetsky and injuring Stephen Hollman, then 29, at Bonnie’s Bar in Plymouth on Sept. 9.
Pike had been appointed to Allabaugh’s case earlier this month when Allabaugh requested his attorneys from the Public Defender’s Office be taken off his case, citing he was not pleased with his two attorneys’ representation.
County Judge Lesa Gelb on Friday assigned attorney Robert Buttner to represent Allabaugh.
Pike wrote in his letter he has 52 open cases he was assigned as conflict counsel attorney and that he averages two or three new cases a week.
A conflict counsel attorney for 17 years, Pike has seen an increase in the number of cases being assigned to him and other conflict attorneys, he said Friday.
That increase, he said in his letter, has resulted in some of his clients not meeting with him in a timely fashion and his inability to make every court appearance.
Recently, Pike said he has seen cases being assigned to conflict counsel attorneys due to a personality differences between a defendant and their assigned public defender.
Typically, a case may be assigned to a conflict counsel attorney when a public defender has either represented a co-defendant or a witness in the case, or another similar conflict.
“It only seems to me based upon my observations and experiences, that unless the defendant has a true conflict or issue with the Public Defender’s Office as a whole, and not just with the individual assistant public defender, the defendant should remain a client of the public defender, albeit a different assistant public defender,” Pike wrote.
Pike said eliminating these types of appointments would reduce the number of assignments.
Several other conflict counsel attorneys declined comment Friday.
Chief Public Defender Steven Greenwald did not return a message seeking comment.
Conflict counsel attorneys handle a number of aspects of law, including several types of criminal proceedings, homicides, juvenile matters and appellate cases.
There are 11 positions in the county’s conflict pool, but not every position is filled. Attorney William Watt recently resigned from the pool. An attorney is assigned to a case in a rotating fashion.