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By Dean M. Beer, Esq., Chief Public Defender, Montgomery County


was recently seated next to a man at a countywide event.
When he asked me what I did I told him I was a public
defender. He quickly answered, as many people do, "I hope
I don't ever need your services." I replied, "Everyone needs the
public defender, whether you have ever been arrested or not."
Every day public defenders defend individuals who are arrested
and charged with committing a crime. Public defenders defend
the Constitution, ensuring that before someone is deprived of
his liberty and in some instances, his life, the state shows its
case is both factually and legally sound. Our work begins in the
courtroom but it does not end there. We not only strive to provide
the highest quality representation to our clients but we prioritize
a holistic, client-centered, and community-oriented practice
with the ultimate goals of securing the best possible resolutions
in our clients' cases, ameliorating the conditions that led to their
involvement in the justice system, and improving the overall
outcomes for their lives. We work to end the cycle of incarceration
and believe one person, one public defender, one investigator, one
social worker can be the difference in our clients' lives.
National Public Defender Week marks the landmark decision
on March 18, 1963 in Gideon v Wainright, which ensured that
indigent criminal defendants have a constitutional right to a
court-appointed lawyer. This year, we celebrated with a weeklong
series of events from March 12th to March 17th, honoring our
dedicated staff and our community partnerships. On March 12th
our office, in partnership with DONAFY and Nikki JohnsonHuston, Esq., announced the kickoff of the DONAFY App in
Montgomery County. DONAFY, the APP WITH A HEART,
is a free smart phone app that allows anyone using the app to
easily locate nearby nonprofit and other service organizations to
help people access housing, food, medical care, mental health, job
assistance, drug & alcohol treatment, LGBT resources, veteran
services, services in Spanish and youth services. This partnership
will provide a valuable tool to help those in need find social
services and treatment options in Montgomery County.
On March 14th we had our annual staff breakfast honoring
our dedicated staff. We also presented the Inaugural Kate Taxis
Defender of the Year award to Carol Sweeney. Carol has been
advocating for the interests of Montgomery County citizens for
nearly two decades, having served in the District Attorney's Office
for seven years and as a public defender for ten. She is the Chief

of our Trial Unit, the public defender liaison for the Behavior
Health Court, and carries a full caseload. It is common to find
Carol staying late into the evening working with young lawyers as
they prepare for court and sharing with them the tools they need
to succeed. Respected by judges and district attorneys alike, and a
true friend to all who know her, Carol is selfless in her pursuit of
justice and truly embodies the spirit of a servant of the public.
On March 15th, we presented our 2nd Annual Herbert Morris
Award to the Norristown and Pottstown Family Justice Hubs.
Herb Morris was a local community leader who helped public
defender clients through the Fatherhood Initiative, a program of
CADCOM. We give this award to those in the community who
either individually or through their organization work to benefit
our clients. This year, we are honoring CADCOM's Norristown
and Pottstown Participatory Justice Hubs. In 2015, we partnered
with Raj Jayadev and the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project in
San Jose, California, who developed the Participatory Defense
Model. Montgomery County is among the very first communities
in the nation to introduce this community-based, collective
action tool. Participatory Defense demands fairness in the justice
system, effectiveness of public defenders and accountability from
prosecutors, judges, police, and prisons. Through this model,
people facing charges, their families, and their communities, are
empowered and provided tools to impact the outcome of cases and
transform the landscape of power in the courtroom.
We ended this great week by co-sponsoring a Criminal Record
Expungement Clinic on Saturday, March 17, 2018, at Arcadia
University. For many people, a prior conviction or mere arrest
that resulted in a dismissal can affect their ability to work, obtain
housing or participate in student loan programs. By providing
this service we hope to allow people to live a productive and
fulfilled life. Having a job is about more than a paycheck; it is
about dignity and self-respect. Helping people help themselves is
what holistic representation is all about.
There would be no Public Defense Week without the support
of many community partners and supporters, including the
Montgomery Bar Association and members of the Montgomery
County Bar. We will be celebrating Public Defense Week
each year, honoring our staff, community and organizational
partnerships, and hosting service projects aimed at highlighting
systemic issues in our criminal justice system.

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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of SIDEBAR Spring 2018

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