Mental Health Special Defense Unit

The Mental Health Special Defense Unit (MHSDU) represents clients who suffer from a mental health disorder, traumatic brain injury, or intellectual disability.  With our staff of attorneys, social workers, mitigation specialists, paralegals, and investigators, we represent our clients in a variety of settings; Municipal Court Mental Health Court, Court of Common Pleas Mental Health Court, Veterans Court, Civil Commitment Hearings, Compassionate Release Hearings, and vertical representation in complex cases where mental health is a predominant factor. 

Vertical cases are assigned to mental health team comprised of attorneys, social workers, investigators, and paralegals.  These cases usually involve serious charges where a mental illness is prevalent. Our team represents the client from arraignment through sentencing.  The clients are usually diagnosed with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder, and the mental health component is so pervasive as it ultimately affects the strategy of the case. These cases can be in any courtroom of the Criminal Justice Center.

For information regarding these cases please contact:

Mental Health Unit Chief Gregg Blender:
267.765.6532
gblender@philadefender.org


Mental Health Unit Assistant Chief Erica Hartwig:
267.765.6826
ehartwig@philadefender.org.

Common Pleas Mental Health Court is located in courtroom 504, Hon. Lilian H. Ransom, presiding. 

The program accepts clients pending trial and for various violation of probation hearings where the previous judge relinquishes jurisdiction to Judge Ransom.  MHSDU attorneys make an application to the District Attorney’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office decides whether a client is accepted or rejected into the court.  Once accepted, the client will usually plead to lesser charges and treatment is a condition of their sentence. 

There are two probation officers permanently assigned to the Court who help facility compliance with treatment.  Clients can also be placed in Common Please Mental Health Court that are awaiting a trial in Common Pleas Court who are not competent.  Attorneys will status those cases in courtroom 504 until they regain competency. 

For information regarding these cases please contact:

Attorney Lenora Clayton:
267.765.6555
lclayton@philadefender.org

Attorney Cheryl Kreisher:
267.765.6636
ckreisher@philadefender.org.

Municipal Court Mental Health Court is located in courtroom 1103 with the Honorable Henry Lewandowski or Honorable Losier presiding.  There are three ways to have a client listed in Municipal Court Mental Health Court:

  1. If at the preliminary arraignment the bail commissioner believes that the client is facing mental health challenges they may lodge a mental health detainer which triggers the Court Mental Health Clinic to do a mental health examination for competency on that client;
  2. Once an attorney meets with a client and that attorney believes that the client is not competent to proceed with either a preliminary hearing or a misdemeanor trial, that attorney will order a mental health evaluation for competency and the case will go to Municipal Court Mental Health Court for the results; or
  3. If the client has mental health axis 1 diagnosis, and the client wants to engage in treatment, the attorney can ask the District Attorney’s Office to status their case in 1103 for treatment compliance in hopes that the case will either be withdrawn or plead to reduced charges.

For information regarding these cases please contact:

Attorney Emily Ngee:
267.765.6856
engee@philadefender.org 

Attorney Wendy Kamen:
267.765.6657
wkamen@philadefender.org

Attorney Gilly Knox:
267.765.6573
gknox@philadefender.org.

Veterans Court is a located in courtroom 1006, every Thursday, with the President Judge Patrick Dugan. Veterans Court is a treatment court for clients that are veterans and want and are in of need treatment.  The treatment is supplied through Veteran Affairs, if the individual qualifies, or their own insurance.

For more information regarding these cases please contact:

Attorney Gilly Knox:
267.765.6573
gknox@philadefender.org 

Paralegal Hannah Daggett:
267.765.6934
hdaggett@philadefender.org  

Our office represents all patients that are facing involuntary civil commitment hearings under the Pennsylvania’s Mental Health Procedures Act.  These hearings take place at either Jefferson Hospital at Albert Einstein Medical Center or Girard Medical Center. 

The hearings are heard by a Mental Health Review Office and brought by the hospital via the Philadelphia City Solicitor’s Office.  The Mental Health Review Officer listens to testimony to see if the patient is suffering from a mental illness and has exhibited behavior in the last thirty days that would indicate that the patient is a danger to themselves or others. 

For more information regarding these cases please contact:

Attorney Luna Pattella:
267.765.6735
lpattella@philadefender.org

Attorney Bruni Vargas:
267-765-6568
BVargas@philadefender.org

Social worker Asinia Abdul-Wakeel:
267.765.6900
aabdulwakeel@philadefender.org

Social worker Lisa Gordon:
267.765.6900
lgordon@philadefender.org

Paralegal Ana Johnston:
267.765.6529
ajohnston@philadefender.org.

Our unit represents clients who are currently in local custody on State Road and gravely ill with usually less than six months to live.

For more information regarding these cases please contact:

Mental Health Unit Chief Gregg Blender:
267.765.6532
gblender@philadefender.org.  

Additional Resources:

For individuals who are in crisis please immediately contact or go to the below CRISIS RESPONSE CENTERS.  The Centers are open 24 hours a day 7 days a week. 

Hall-Mercer Community Mental Health Center:
215.829.3461
245 South 8th Street  

Albert Einstein Crisis Response Center:
215.951.8300

(Entrance through the Emergency Department) 5501 Old York Road 

Friends Hospital:
215-831-4600
4641 Roosevelt Blvd. 

Temple University-Episcopal Campus:
215-707-2577
100 E. Lehigh Ave. 

MHSDU Team Leads:

Mental Health Unit Chief: Gregg Blender 267.765.6532 gblender@philadefender.org

Mental Health Unit Assistant Chief: Erica Hartwig 267.765.6826 ehartwig@philadefender.org