Friday, July 11, 2014

Judge to decide amendments on Flora

Attorneys say one of updates needed is to reflect ex-public defender’s removal from office.

May 08. 2013 12:11AM

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WILKES-BARRE — Attorneys representing former Luzerne County Chief Public Defender Al Flora in a lawsuit against the county said Tuesday they should be permitted to amend the existing lawsuit because Flora was fired from his job and there are new plaintiffs in the case.

Mary Catherine Roper, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, said the lawsuit needs to be updated because facts in the case have changed: Flora is no longer the chief public defender and three new plaintiffs will be added to the suit who will be impacted by inadequate representation because of problems within the public defender’s office.

Roper filed an amended lawsuit last week, to which attorneys for Luzerne County objected, leading to a hearing held Tuesday before Senior Judge Joseph Augello. A trial in the case is scheduled for June 24.

Roper argued the lawsuit needs to be amended because Flora was fired from his position last month in retaliation for filing the original lawsuit in 2012, and is now a part of the lawsuit as an individual.

Flora filed the suit in April 2012, claiming the Public Defender’s Office was so underfunded and understaffed it could not provide adequate defense to indigent clients. The situation had become so dire, Flora argued, he was compelled to limit the type of cases the office would accept.

Augello ordered Flora to resume representing all defendants and told the county to allow Flora to fill vacant positions.

Roper said she and Flora’s other attorneys believe he will be reinstated after they filed a federal lawsuit on April 22, seeking to have Flora reappointed to his position.

County council on April 9, acting on a recommendation made by Manager Robert Lawton, hired Kingston attorney Stephen Greenwald as chief public defender. Lawton relieved Flora of his duties on April 17.

Roper also said Tuesday that the three additional clients — all facing felony crimes — are seeking adequate representation for indigent clients, the basis of the original lawsuit.

Attorney John Dean, who represents the county and Lawton in the suit, called the amended suit “schizophrenic” and said the amended complaint isn’t an amended complaint at all — it’s an entirely new action that would delay the June 24 trial date.

Dean said the trial would need to be delayed until at least September if Flora’s attorneys were allowed to amend the suit, because new evidence would have to be conducted, new interviews completed and other legal matters settled.

Dean said Flora was not fired — he and other applicants applied for the position, and Greenwald was appointed. Flora would have the opportunity in the near future to apply for a position within the office if he wanted to continue working there, Dean said. “They are raising these issues at the last moment,” he said.

“The county should not be railroaded into a trial,” said attorney Deborah Simon, who also represents the county. “If there are problems (with new plaintiffs) we should be able to address those problems.”

Roper argued the trial could be held on June 24, and that attorneys would have adequate time to conduct further discovery in the case.

Augello said he would make a ruling as quickly as possible. No ruling had been issued by the close of business Tuesday.

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