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2023 Press Releases

Posted on: June 15, 2023

Montgomery County Commissioners Appoint Christine Lora County Public Defenders Chief

Chief Public Defender Christine Lora

NORRISTOWN, PA — The Montgomery County Commissioners today approved the appointment of Christine P. Lora, Esq. as Chief of the County’s Public Defender Office. The hiring marks the culmination of a three-year process that has brought substantive reforms to the County justice system to ensure that every accused person in Montgomery County receives a zealous defense regardless of their ability to pay for it. 

 A Montgomery County native, Lora served as senior trial attorney for more than eight years for the Defender Association of Philadelphia where she represented hundreds of clients facing criminal charges. She spent the last two years as managing director of a private firm in Chester County, and most recently has been handling the criminal practice at Miller, Turetsky, Rule &

 McLennan in Collegeville. Now, she has decided to return to her calling, saying she is a “public defender in heart and soul.”

 “I believe there is no greater calling than to serve indigent defendants in the way they desire and deserve,” Lora said. “I believe we must prioritize communities and families, and advance policies that champion integration and rehabilitation. I also believe in balancing our community’s attention and resources to the underlying causes of criminal prosecution. Above all, I believe in the lawyers and professionals like those in the Montgomery County Public Defender Office who dedicate themselves to this admirable vocation.”  

 Two senior public defenders, Greg Nester and Carol Sweeney, have guided the office for the past three years as co-chief public defenders as they successfully advocated for substantive reforms within the County justice system on behalf of their clients. For example, defendants who cannot afford a lawyer now have one with them at their initial court appearance and arraignment. 

 In addition, the Court, supported by the County and other stakeholders, has reformed the bail system, and streamlined the pre-trial process to make sure people are not unnecessarily detained before they go to trial while also maintaining public safety. The Court has also revamped how it will manage probation hearings and potential probation violation issues, significantly reducing the amount of time individuals will wait in prison for an initial hearing to be scheduled. These reforms and others have safely reduced the population at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility by 50% compared to 2018.

 “I congratulate Greg and Carol for the way they successfully led the office, especially through the pandemic, which made it challenging for our dedicated public defenders to represent clients, which you can’t do remotely,” said County Commissioners’ Chair Kenneth E. Lawrence. “We are proud of the significant reforms that have been made over these past three years in the pursuit of a more equitable justice system. Now, with Christine joining the County to lead the public defender team, we feel certain this progress will continue and even more will be made. I want to thank members of the Public Defender Advisory Board and their chair, Professor Paul Heaton of the University of Pennsylvania law school, for their extraordinary work and dedication in selecting and recommending the most highly qualified candidates possible to lead these efforts forward.”

 The County Commissioners established the advisory board last year to bring community-wide input into developing best practices and to recommend top candidates for the chief public defender position. The commissioners took that step after contracting with Temple University’s law school to produce recommendations on how to strengthen the public defender office and make it as independent as possible under Pennsylvania law. 

 “Playing a role in the selection of Ms. Lora as Chief Public Defender was obviously an important part of our job, which is to strengthen indigent defense generally and our public defenders specifically,” said Professor Heaton. “To the commissioners’ credit, they elevated the value of public defender independence by allowing the advisory board to serve a screening role. We evaluated all the applications that came in; developed an extensive list of questions including how applicants would stand up for the rights of clients and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; conducted interviews; and forwarded three very strong finalists for the job.”  

 The advisory committee represents diverse perspectives from the Montgomery County community. Aside from Heaton, the board includes vice chair, criminal attorney Geoffrey Hood of Horsham, attorney Katie Daly from the Curtin and Heefner law firm in Doylestown, Brush With the Law artist and director Maria Maneos, University of Pennsylvania licensed social worker Emily Rich, JEVS executive director for justice partnerships Jeffrey Abramowitz, president of the NAACP Cheltenham branch Eddie Graham, Philly Lawyers law firm (in Jenkintown) attorney R. Emmett Madden, and Coalition4Justice President and CEO Dr. Bernadine Ahonkhai.

 Ahonkhai said she came into the process with the goal of finding a transformative leader for the office. “One of the things that I personally pushed for, as I have done during my years of being active in the community, was to find someone who is responsive to the needs of the Black and brown community in the county,” she said. “So, I was very happy that we found someone with great strength and leadership skills and knowledge of public defense who is not afraid to shake things up to build a stronger public defender office. Christine was my top choice among the candidates we sent to the commissioners, but all three finalists were excellent. I’m gratified they listened to us.”

 Maria Maneos said she was extremely impressed with the way Lora uses data to look for alternative solutions to help clients. “She makes everything in the process about the client and not just the system the client has found themselves in,” said Maneos, who has had family members who were clients of the defender office. “She is asking the important questions like ‘why are there so many incarcerations,’ and what are we doing to potentially look at the problems that may have led to the charges. I’d like to see the system become more rehabilitative than purely punitive, and I feel that Christine has that belief as well. Maybe the defenders office and the system can help the client before their problem gets worse and they ruin their life.”

 Christine Lora will begin her new position in mid-July.

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