Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald kept his search for a new Public Defender local and tapped one of the region's well-known criminal defense attorneys for the post. Elliot Howsie will take over the position March 19th.
The 43-year-old from the East End will give up his office as a sole practitioner. He is a graduate of Central Catholic High School, earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and his law degree from Duquesne University in 1998.
Howsie comes into the office at a time when there have been questions about its effectiveness. "I realize that there are a number of issues and challenges that have been pointed out in the office and things that need to be addressed," said Howsie. "But also realize that a vast majority of employees in that office want to do a good job and have done the best job that they can."
Howsie said he is anxious to get into the position.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said Howsie would have to live under the same tight budget that all other department heads are facing. Fitzgerald said he does not think it is a matter of spending more money, it is about spending the money better and he thinks Howsie will be able to revamp the office to do that.
During a meeting with the media Howsie and Fitzgerald were short on specifics but both voiced confidence that the office will improve under the new administration. "Making changes in the office and in the representation that is provided to indigent defendants is not something that is going to happen overnight, with one person," said Fitzgerald. "Having a leader, though, who understands and recognizes that no one person is going to come into the office and solve its problems, is absolutely necessary."
Howsie said if he is successful in improving the office it would not only benefit the clients, but also the county's bottom line.
"There are a number of things that can happen throughout the process that can assist people getting out of jail sooner or would assist people in resolving their cases sooner, and because of the delays in resolving cases it increases the expense for the whole system, whether it's housing inmates, bringing in police officers [to testify]… things like that," said Howsie.
The office is currently budgeted to employee 82 lawyers; there are two vacant positions that are to be filled soon. Howsie said he thinks he will be able to run the office efficiently with that level of staffing.
Howsie will succeed Micheal Machen in the office.