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Has Josh Shapiro violated his own gift ban again?

Plus, a new committee will figure out how to distribute public defense funds.

This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

February 15, 2024 | spotlightpa.org
Lobbyist tickets, court settlement, Israel Bonds, Paterno field, House control, flawed claims, medical debt, public defense, and EPA inspections.

Democrat Josh Shapiro accepted $1,650 worth of “event tickets and catering” from a powerful Harrisburg lobbyist last year, a perk his campaign insists was a political contribution.

In his official capacity as Pennsylvania’s governor, Shapiro has banned all executive branch employees from receiving similar gifts from people who are trying to influence state government decisions.

Also this week, a recent settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Pennsylvania court system offers new protections to people who county courts allegedly barred from taking medications for opioid use disorder.

Finally, state Treasurer Stacy Garrity is defending her decision to use taxpayer money to buy more Israel Bonds and drawing flak from political opponents who question her motivations.

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New committee will figure out how to distribute public defense funds

On Monday, in a nondescript government building on the edge of Harrisburg, a group of people began figuring out how to spend Pennsylvania’s first-ever sustainable funding for public defense.

The Indigent Defense Advisory Committee, a group of 27 public defenders, attorneys, advocates, government officials, and law enforcement personnel, will spend the next three months coming up with a funding framework that counties can use to get a piece of the $7.5 million the state legislature approved for public defense late last December.

Beyond June, the committee will also collect and analyze data from county public defender offices and develop the first statewide standards for indigent defense services.

Their work will take years and continue as long as Pennsylvania dedicates funding to public defense, as Gov. Josh Shapiro has proposed in his 2024 budget. Here's a rundown of who's on the committee.

Sara Jacobsen

Jacobsen chairs the committee and is executive director of the Public Defender Association of Pennsylvania, an organization that provides free legal counsel to people who cannot afford representation. The association has provided training for public defenders and advocated for better funding for their offices since 1971.

Public defenders

Public defenders comprise the largest faction of the committee. There are representatives from the public defense offices in Blair, Lancaster, Luzerne, Mercer, and Montgomery Counties, as well as Philadelphia. At Monday’s meeting, these attorneys highlighted the dire need for financial support in their offices.


The three judges on the committee routinely preside over adult and juvenile criminal cases. All serve on Courts of Common Pleas, Pennsylvania’s trial-level courts. They are:

  • Chesley Lightsey, a former prosecutor elected to the Philadelphia court last year;

  • Dwayne Woodruff, a 20-year veteran of the Allegheny County bench and former cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers;

  • Tedd Nesbit, a former state representative who has served on the court in Mercer County since 2020.

Advocates and academics

Gopal Balachandran is a professor at Penn State Law. He directs the school’s Criminal Appellate and Post-Conviction Services Clinic, where students gain experience representing clients who cannot afford to hire a defense attorney.

Taili Thompson is the director of the violence prevention initiative at Operation Better Block, a Pittsburgh-based community group working to empower residents to better their own communities. Thompson was recommended to the committee by the Pennsylvania Prison Society for his work with current and former incarcerated people.

Law enforcement

Scott Bohn is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, which promotes best practices in policing through its accreditation program. Bohn served as the chief of the West Chester Police Department for 20 years before retiring in 2020.

Kelly Callihan is the executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, which provides training and advocacy for prosecutors across the state. Callihan is a lifelong prosecutor, and serves as a district attorney in Cambria and Dauphin Counties.

You can learn more by visiting the committee’s website. Danielle Ohl, Spotlight PA

🤔 NEXT QUESTION: Are you on top of the news? Prove it with the latest edition of Great PA News Quiz: 2024 ballots, flawed election claims, 'spring' snow, and Shapiro's debt eraser
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