On Tuesday, the city released a notice of its intention to contract with Alva & Associates to start a for-profit law firm from scratch to represent criminal defendants and family-court defendants when the Defender Association of Philadelphia, Community Legal Services or the Support Center for Child Advocates is already representing another person in the case.
Daniel-Paul Alva, founder of the four-member Alva & Associates law firm, and Scott DiClaudio, who also has his own firm, originally submitted a $9.5 million plan to create a for-profit Office of Conflict Counsel. DiClaudio resigned from the project following social-media postings he made.
In September, Alva told City Paper that the new office will benefit clients, because its salaried attorneys would have no incentive except the client's best interest. Currently, court-appointed lawyers get paid more if they take their cases to trial — even if it would be better to settle, Alva said. Further, he argued that salaried lawyers can handle more cases by being assigned to one courtroom throughout the day. Alva could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Councilman Dennis O'Brien opposes the plan. Funding a new law firm just at $9.5 million is not enough money, O'Brien said. If the system is "underfunded, criminal cases, even death penalty and homicide cases, are going to be dismissed under the speedy trial rule," he predicted.
And "when the system crashes and burns and we can't put Humpty Dumpty back together again, all the lawyers that were doing this [legal work] will have gone elsewhere," O'Brien said.
There were four other bidders for the contract: Ahmad & Zaffarese & Smyler, AskPhillyLawyer.com, Montoya Shaffer and Sokolow & Associates, according to the city's notice.
While Alva & Associates was not the lowest bidder, the city says in its notice that Alva & Associates would provide "superior quality, efficiency and fitness" as well as "superior ability or capacity to meet particular requirements of contract and needs of City Department and those it serves."
Mark McDonald, press secretary for Mayor Michael A. Nutter, said that other bidders have seven days to object to awarding the contract. If no objections are lodged, the contract would go into effect March 1. McDonald said he did not have any other details about the contract.
Michael Resnick, Nutter's director of public safety, did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
In November, O'Brien introduced legislation to require the appointment of a quality-control auditor to ensure the legal representation in the Office of Conflict Counsel was living up to American Bar Association standards and a detailed audit of the allocation of city taxpayers' dollars to the law firm. O'Brien also introduced a bill to ask Philadelphia voters to approve a change to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter (once approved by City Council). If enacted, the charter amendment would require City Council approval of every contract involving the expenditure of $100,000 or more on legal representation for poor Philadelphians. Currently, contracts that are for less than one year, at any amount, don't need City Council approval.
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