Defender Association to Represent Clients Through COVID-19 Crisis

The Defender’s offices are closed until April 1, but attorneys and staff will continue working on behalf of clients through the coronavirus emergency

PHILADELPHIA–The Defender Association of Philadelphia will be closing its office from March 17 to April 1, in accordance with the City’s call today for an emergency shutdown of non-essential businesses and services to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As part of this citywide emergency action, the First Judicial District’s (FJD) announced that a number of court activities are being temporarily suspended or scaled back.

“Even though many court services are being curtailed, our clients still have a need and a right to due process,” said Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey, “The leadership at our office will be stepping up to provide representation during this emergency period.”

The Defender Association has been working with the FJD, District Attorneys Office and the Police Department on plans to ensure public safety while reducing arraignment court workload and the jail population. To achieve that objective, the Defender’s attorneys and staff will be coordinating with justice system partners in a number of areas:

  • Public defenders will work with Judges looking to release non-violent offenders by filing emergency motions for release on the basis of health and other reasons;
  • The Defender’s social workers will coordinate with the Sherrif’s Department to identify and arrange transport out of jails and into support service programs;
  • The Children and Youth Justice unit will work with Family Court on the release of juvenile offenders; and
  • The Defender will work with the Prisons Department to identify and release clients on low-level bail.

“We think we have a great framework to get us through the next couple of weeks, and we’ll keep tweaking these processes and finding new ways to collaborate,” Bradford-Grey said.

There is also discussion around the issuance of summons instead of detaining individuals accused of low-level offenses, a major component of the Defender Association’s pre-entry model, which already has community partners in place.

“We have community organizations in our Pre-entry Coalition ready and waiting to ensure that our clients are receiving the supportive and corrective services they need prior to their court appearance, and to remind them of their obligations to the Court,” said Bradford-Grey, “We just need to work a little more on a plan to implement this model.

“As we all know, this is a very fluid situation. And, while we’ll need to be flexible and pivot where necessary, we need the courts to take immediate and decisive action that will protect our citizens’ health and public safety.”

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