Kinkead celebrates ‘Public Defender Day’ in Pittsburgh

Joins Lt. Gov. Davis, city and state officials to recognize public defenders

PITTSBURGH, March 17 – State Rep. Emily Kinkead held a news conference today at the City-County Building to celebrate public defenders in Allegheny County and recognize March 18 as Public Defender Day.

“The right to counsel is a fundamental right, essential to a fair trial and due process of law,” said Kinkead. “Our public defenders ensure that our criminal justice system works as it is supposed to – with quality representation on both sides – but that only happens if the government does its part in properly funding our public defense. Allegheny County is the second most populous county in the state, with a criminal caseload to match, and yet until very recently had some of the lowest paid public defenders in our Commonwealth because our state has shifted the burden of paying for this constitutional right to our counties for far too long.”

Kinkead, who worked as a criminal defense attorney before her election to the House, emphasized the fact that Pennsylvania remains one of only two states that fail to provide state funding for public defenders. She gave a nod to Gov. Josh Shapiro for proposing significant state funding for public defenders in his budget address last week.

Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, an Allegheny County native, also spoke at today’s event and expressed his sincere gratitude for the work that public defenders do.

“Innocent until proven guilty – that’s a hallmark belief of the American justice system,” said Davis. “So is providing equal access to justice, no matter whether you are rich or poor. It’s finally time for Pennsylvania to live up to these American values. We are currently one of only two states that do not fund public defenders, leaving counties on their own to pick up the tab. That’s why the Shapiro-Davis budget calls for $10 million in state funding to be invested in indigent defense.”

Other officials in attendance at today’s event included Mayor Ed Gainey, Judge Lisa Middleman, House Majority Whip Dan Miller, City Councilman Bobby Wilson, At-Large County Councilperson Bethany Hallam, and Allegheny County Chief Public Defender Matt Dugan.

"I'd like to thank Representatives Kinkead and Miller and Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis for acknowledging the Allegheny County Office of the Public Defender on the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright. The right to counsel is fundamental to our justice system, and the men and women in my office epitomize what it means to be a Public Defender,” Dugan said.

Tomorrow marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright guaranteeing the right to legal counsel for criminal defendants in federal and state courts.

Photos from the event may be downloaded here.