Allegheny County’s top public defender announced Friday he will run for the Court of Common Pleas.
Elliot Howsie said his on-the-job experience combined with his childhood growing up in Wilkinsburg and his perseverance through law school while working two jobs will give him a diverse perspective on the bench.
“I understand the importance of us having judges on the bench that will have respect, that can make decisions that will not have just a dramatic generational impact on our families,” Howsie said. “We need to have judges that have the perspective, the legal experience, the work history and the life experience to serve and better serve the members of our community.”
Howsie, 50, will remain in his position as chief public defender as he campaigns for judge. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald pointed him director and chief public defender in 2012. The position gives Howsie the task of making sure anyone who cannot afford legal representation can get it.
Fitzgerald said that when he took office, one of the most pressing issues was retooling the public defender’s office.
“The name that kept coming up was Elliot Howsie,” he said.
He said Howsie brought compassion, perspective and work ethic to the office, which he believes will translate to the Court of Common Pleas as well.
“Growing up in Wilkinsburg and growing up understanding what goes on in working-class communities, (he brings) a level of diversity onto the bench that, quite frankly, isn’t there right now,” Fitzgerald said. “And I’m not just talking about ethnic and racial diversity, I’m talking about socioeconomic diversity that’s needed on the Court of Common Pleas.”
Howsie is also an adjunct law professor at Duquesne University, where he received his law degree in 1998. He has worked as a law clerk, an assistant district attorney and in private practice.
He touted changes made during his time in the public defender’s office, including providing attorneys at preliminary arraignments and ultimately helping to decrease the number of non-violent offenders held in the Allegheny County Jail.
“I am not running as an African-American candidate for the Court of Common Pleas,” he said. “I am running as the most qualified candidate.”
Court of Common Plea judges are elected to 10-year terms.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.