Citing courtroom delays that plague Philadelphia’s criminal-justice system, a judge has pressed court-appointed defense lawyers to move their cases along swiftly, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe of Common Pleas Court said her office would monitor how long lawyers take to handle cases and consider those “disposition rates” in making future assignments. Dembe wrote to 300 lawyers who represent indigent clients at the court’s expense in response to an Inquirer series that showed a court system in crisis – beset by low conviction rates, a massive fugitive problem, long court delays, and dismissal of thousands of cases each year without any decision on the merits.
“My goal is to have lawyers think twice – especially if they’re operating on our dime – before they ask for a continuance that isn’t really justified,” Dembe told the newspaper. Lawyers who handle court appointments bristled at her decision to take aim at them. Dembe pointed out that the American Bar Association standard for disposition of criminal cases was four months for misdemeanors and six months for felonies. She said the court would measure each lawyer’s performance against those standards in weighing whether to appoint them in future cases.