Philadelphia Criminal Law News

PA Taxpayers Paying for Corrupt Politicians' Legal Fees: Report

Pennsylvania law seems to cut some slack for politicians who screw up. Specifically, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that politicians accused of corruption can hire lawyers at taxpayers' expense.

Prior to 1996, these politicians didn't even have to pay the funds back upon conviction. But the law was changed that year, and now politicians convicted of corruption are supposed to reimburse the treasury for their legal fees.

Those fees have added up to $15 million over the last five years alone, the Inquirer reports. But for the most part, the convicted politicians have not been forced to reimburse the state.

According to the law, taxpayers aren't technically supposed to pay for these allegedly corrupt politicians' costly trials. Rather, state funds are supposed to go toward legal counsel during the investigative phase, WHYY reports.

But where do you draw the line? Apparently it's not that difficult for a corrupt politician to circumvent the rules and have state funds pay for his full defense.

The 1996 law revision, known as "Liability for Reimbursement of Costs for Outside Counsel," was meant to close that loophole.

But don't be fooled. Just because there's a law obligating politicians to reimburse taxpayers for their state-funded Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney, don't assume that these guys have actually been paying back these funds.

According to WHYY, it seems the payback has only happened in one recent case: Jane Orie, a convicted state senator in Western Pennsylvania, had to repay $110,000 in legal fees.

Why is it so difficult to collect unreimbursed legal fees from corrupt politicians? The answer lies in the fact that the onus to collect these funds rests with Pennsylvania's Attorney General.

What's even more shocking, however, is that there are no hourly rate caps on legal fees for these politicians, according to the Inquirer. Compare that to public defenders who represent low-income capital murder defendants: their defense fund is capped at $17,500, the paper reports.

Will the corrupt politicians' legal fees ever be paid back? Given the track record on the collection of these funds, it's hard to say.

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