Public defenders’ firings protested amid bail reform push

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NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) — The firing of two county public defenders in the Philadelphia suburbs is drawing a growing backlash, coming after their office filed a court brief that said systemic failures in cash bail practices are rife in Pennsylvania.

A crowd of more than 100 protesters held a rally on the Montgomery County courthouse steps Thursday before giving hours of public comment at the regular meeting of the county’s board of commissioners.

The three commissioners listened, but they did not directly address the Feb. 26 firings of Dean Beer, the former chief defender, and Keisha Hudson, his deputy, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Beer was fired after he filed a brief in support of a lawsuit in front of the state Supreme Court in which the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is challenging Philadelphia’s bail practices as unconstitutional, beyond court guidelines and often without consideration of a defendant’s ability to pay.

The state chapter of the ACLU helped organize Thursday’s protest. In his brief, Beers wrote that failures in Philadelphia’s cash bail system are found throughout Pennsylvania, including in Montgomery County.

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association and the American Council of Chief Defenders have condemned the firings, as did Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s district attorney.

The firings come amid a national movement to end bail practices that are viewed as unfairly and unconstitutionally forcing jail stays on poor defendants, precipitating a string of negative, life-long consequences on them.

Commissioners in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania’s third-most populous, have not said why they fired the pair, although the chairwoman, Val Arkoosh, said she supports statewide bail reform and ending the pretrial detention of people “for economic reasons.”

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