Justice In Crisis

Two Public Defenders Fired For Fighting Injustice. Their Leadership Is Needed Now More Than Ever.

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AS THE CORONAVIRUS SPREADS, Now, more than ever, STRONG AND VOCAL PUBLIC DEFENDER LEADERSHIP IS NEEDED to ensure the health and well-being of those facing loss of liberty or already incarcerated. In Montgomery County, PA, that leadership is now missing. The County Commission just fired their two top defenders for challenging the County's unjust bail system, which jails thousands on unaffordable bail without assistance of counsel. There is an urgent need for public defenders to fight for those at enhanced risk for contracting COVID-19. For the sake of fairness, independence, and public health, DEAN BEER AND KEISHA HUDSON MUST BE REINSTATED.




Current Inaction on Coronavirus in Montgomery County, PA

The same County Commission that fired Keisha Hudson and Dean is now out trying to convince the public that a functional, fair, and efficient system exists to review and release those incarcerated in local jails in this time of crisis, and significantly diminish jail for those newly arrested. 

On March 18, 2020, Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh stated:

“We are ensuring that for most crimes, inability to pay a cash bail would not during this emergency put you into the correctional facility, we would monitor you in some different way . . . and they [are taking] a look at the correctional facility to see if there is anybody who is eligible to be discharged from the correctional facility."

Public defenders from Keisha and Dean's office, in a strongly worded rebuttal, set the record straight. First, they pointed out the Commissioner's admission of the unconstitutionality of the current bail system in Montgomery County that Keisha and Dean were fired for challenging: 

"Inability to pay bail, for all crimes, should never be the reason someone is put into a correctional facility. This is a legal mandate, and if it took a health crisis before this County was willing to publicly stand behind this legal requirement that should raise serious concerns."

The defenders then noted that they have requested release for dozens of people, starting with what should have been the most easiest cases to get agreement on: low bail, non-violent offenses. Only 4 people have been released so far. The defenders have had no luck with cooperation from the District Attorneys office. Judges continue to set bail and send people too poor to afford bail into harms way solely because of their poverty. 

There is a crisis in Montgomery County, PA. Steady leadership is needed.

"We are facing a pandemic that will, should it infiltrate our prison, wreak havoc on our prison population and create potentially lethal consequences, and yet we’ve faced inexplicable roadblocks."  

Read the Defenders Response on the Crisis




Dean Beer and Keisha Hudson filed an amicus brief with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, underscoring the illegal pre-trial system in Montgomery County. Soon after, they were fired because they supposedly failed to ask permission first from the very powers that allowed this illegal system to persist. 


1. Systemic Injustice

Every day in Montgomery County, PA, judges violate the constitution. They jail people pretrial on unaffordable bail at hearings without any attorneys to defend them. The County does not provide funding for any defense at this critical stage to argue for release and provide services. The result: The separation of countless families and disruption of countless lives.

Bail Study: Montgomery County

2. Defenders Respond

Dean Beer, Keisha Hudson, and their office advocated FOR A CHANGE IN THE STATUS QUO. They filed an amicus brief in support of ACLU litigation challenging state-wide bail practices. They told powerful and painful stories of the impact of the "dysfunctional" system in Montgomery County residents. They advocated for the people and communities they serve.

Read: The Powerful Amicus Brief


3. County Threatens

After filing the brief, the county's Chief Judge demanded they withdraw it and threatened to terminate a promised pretrial services program. The County Commission, who funds the defender office and has the power to fire, made the same demand. Both made clear that defenders must first get permission before advocating for reform.

Read: County Commission Letter

4. Retaliatory Firing

Rightfully concerned about the future funding for their office and the well-being of their clients, the defenders made the decision to withdraw the brief. It was too late. They were summarily fired without notice to them or their office. They were escorted out by security. To the judge and County Commission, they could not be trusted. They were immediately replaced.


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A Chilling Effect on Defenders

“We were left to question the independence of the office, the impact of our advocacy, and whether such advocacy would be limited. To witness our chiefs fired, escorted from the Office by security, given no opportunity to explain their dismissal was deeply upsetting, and created a sense of confusion, fear, and had a chilling effect on those of us who remained.”

Current lawyers & support staff respond


“Public defenders are on the front lines. No one gets a better view of the day-to-day problems in the country’s courts. It’s vital that public defender offices be free from political pressure.”


A national problem

Public defenders shouldn’t need to get permission to advocate for clients. Yet many defender offices, like Montgomery County, serve at the whim of their political leaders, either local or state-based. Assigned counsel attorneys are also beholden to the judges that assign them to cases. 

While some defenders are supported by their local government officials and their judiciary, there are thousands of defender leaders and individual attorneys who are forced to make compromises in order to keep their positions and funding, or risk termination because of their commitment to quality representation for their clients or for purely political reasons. Keisha and Dean are unfortunately not alone.

The Indigent Defense Initiative of Civil Rights Corps is a litigation and advocacy project that challenges this entrenched unconstitutional system. They have represented numerous public defenders in retaliation lawsuits, including the case of Drew Wiley, who was removed from cases to which he was assigned and passed over for future cases because he fought widespread, systemic constitutional violations in the Galveston Criminal Courts. 

On March 18, 2020, Civil Rights Corps filed a lawsuit on behalf of Keisha Hudson alleging she was fired for exercising her First Amendment rights to free speech. 



A Community Responds

members of the private legal bar refiled the amicus brief

THE COMMUNITY RALLIED and passionately voiced their objections to the County Commission. Then, in an unprecedented move, members of the private bar of Montgomery County refiled Dean and Keisha's amicus brief. The stakes were too grave to ignore.



The Latest



Reinstate Dean & Keisha

Dean Beer and Keisha Hudson have still not been reinstated. Their leadership is more important than ever now given Coronavirus and the risks to people being brought into courthouses and held in jail. 

Sign the Petition Now


Dean Beer

Until recently, Dean was the Chief Public Defender in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. He has served in the Office since 2013 and was appointed  as the Chief Public Defender in January, 2016. In addition to having extensive trial experience, Mr. Beer also co-founded the immigration project while at the Defender Association of Philadelphia. Dean has practiced as a Public Defender in North Carolina and also represented farmworkers throughout California as a staff attorney for the United Farmworkers Association. Mr. Beer is married and has two grown children.


Keisha Hudson

Ms. Hudson spent 17 1/2 years as a Public Defender and until February 26, 2020 she was the Deputy Chief Defender for Montgomery County. She has received numerous public interest and leadership awards, & most recently was nominated by community members for an Exceptional Woman Award. Ms. Hudson serves on the boards of the Criminal Defense Lawyers & Public Defenders Associations of Pennsylvania. Ms. Hudson is a proud immigrant from Jamaica, where she was born and raised, moving to this county when she was 15 years old.