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Filing claims three men cannot be represented properly because Public Defender’s Office lacks funding.

Last updated: April 30. 2013 12:18AM - 4060 Views
By - elewis@civitasmedia.com - (570) 991-6116



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WILKES-BARRE — Defenses by Luzerne County Public Defender’s Office of three men separately charged with firearm offenses, burglary and sexually assaulting a child will be inadequate due to excessive caseloads, understaffing and lack of resources, according to an amended class action lawsuit filed in county court Friday.


The amended suit, filed on behalf of former Chief Public Defender Al Flora Jr., and three men facing felony charges, claims the public defender’s office and public defenders cannot lawfully represent their clients due to limited resources and space and a declining budget from county council.


Flora filed a separate lawsuit in federal court last week over his dismissal as chief public defender by county Manager Robert Lawton on April 17.


The amended suit replaces another lawsuit that Flora, when he was chief public defender, filed against the county in April 2012. Trial is scheduled in June.


According to the latest suit:


In December 2011, Flora stopped assigning public defenders to represent clients who were charged with lesser crimes due to excessive caseloads, limited staffing and a state Supreme Court order to expunge the records of nearly 3,000 juvenile cases that were presided over by former county judge Mark Ciavarella.


In June, Senior Judge Joseph Augello ordered Flora to resume representing all defendants who qualified for representation and told the county to allow Flora to fill vacant positions. Flora reassigned a public defender from adult cases to juvenile cases, but was not permitted by the county to hire an attorney despite money in the budget to pay the salary.


Flora claimed county council allocated $2.5 million, a nearly 7 percent decrease from 2011, for the public defender’s office in 2012. Flora rearranged the spending plan to prevent staff layoffs but reduced his expert witness budget from $100,000 to $72,000.


“This budget reduction substantially impacted the ability to retain experts in capital and juvenile cases, both of which frequently require expert testimony,” the lawsuit says.


Named as defendants in the latest lawsuit are Luzerne County and Lawton.ranged the spending plan to prevent staff layoffs but reduced his expert witness budget from $100,000 to $72,000.


“This budget reduction substantially impacted the ability to retain experts in capital and juvenile cases, both of which frequently require expert testimony,” the lawsuit says.


Named as defendants in the latest lawsuit are Luzerne County and Lawton.


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