Keystone State’s Feud WIth Federal Defender Office

In Pennsylvania, 429 death warrants have been signed since 1985 but only three people have been executed. The state’s top judge, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court , blamed its failings largely on the Federal Community Defender Office. The chief justice said “the … the organization prolongs death penalty proceedings, using unethical delaying tactics and summoning many experts.”

Beyond that, he said, the mission of the federal defender office is supposed to be federal in nature. Funded by $17 million a year in federal taxpayer funds, the federal office has injected itself into many Pennsylvania-jurisdiction death row cases, creating more costs for state taxpayers, Castille said. “Tremendous extra costs,” Castille said….

The immense expense surrounding the Keystone State’s machinery of death has spawned many in the legislature to advocate the abolition of the death penalty. However, Castille said it was up to the Legislature, not the courts, to change the system. But, he said, “The only way you will be able to change the system is to get the Federal Community Defender Office out of the system.”

It should also be noted that Castille is nearing the end of his tenure as chief justice and he’s had a running feud with the federal defender’s office over the past five or so years. I wish him well in his retirement and would encourage him to move to either Texas or Arizona where he can cheer the executions that occur on a routine basis.