Larry Moran named new Lackawanna County chief public defender

Lackawanna County’s new chief public defender is the man who had the job temporarily – a lawyer with more than three decades in criminal defense work.

County Commissioners Corey O’Brien and Jim Wansacz said Tuesday they gave interim chief public defender Larry Moran the job permanently, as the post once again becomes part-time rather than the full-time job it was since 2008. Also, the office will undergo restructuring expected to increase the number of lawyers doing defense work.

“Attorney Moran was one of five … candidates who applied, and we thought he was the best equipped for the position,” Mr. O’Brien said. “He has over 30 years of trying cases and has a reputation of being a thorough and aggressive defender.”

Mr. O’Brien said all five candidates were interviewed by the commissioners. He declined to name the other applicants.

Mr. Moran, 60, of Jermyn, will earn $48,000 a year as part-time chief public defender and will give up his $40,000-a-year job as county general counsel for litigation. Former Chief Public Defender Sid Prejean, who worked full-time, earned $71,281 a year. Mr. O’Brien said the commissioners will hire a replacement in Mr. Moran’s former post, but have not decided if the job will entail the same duties.

Mr. Moran, who is “of counsel” with the Lenahan & Dempsey law firm, said he does criminal defense work in private practice, but also spends much of his time representing clients who are victims of criminal wrongdoing.
“Advocating for the poor and the powerless I consider to be an article of my faith and a major bulwark of my professional responsibility as a lawyer,” Mr. Moran said.

In reducing the office to part-time, Mr. O’Brien said the commissioners took the advice of a panel that examined the structure of the public defender’s office. The panel, made up of county solicitor Don Frederickson, former chief public defender Gerard M. Karam and Mr. Moran, recommended reducing the job to part-time in hopes of attracting a greater number of qualified candidates, Mr. O’Brien said. The panel did not recommend candidates.

Mr. Moran said the panel felt the office might be able to attract more qualified candidates for chief public defender if it were a part-time post as long as the commissioners were willing to also restructure the office a bit. Many lawyers with his kind of experience are unwilling to give up their practices to work full-time in such a post, he said.

“It’s tough to get someone, frankly, with my kind of experience” willing to do that, he said.

He said the commissioners have hired attorney Thomas P. Cummings III, 29, as an assistant part-time public defender. Mr. Moran said the public defender’s office will also stop providing lawyers for people who can’t afford one in parental custody cases, something it has traditionally done and something outside the normal scope of public defenders as defined by the state law authorizing them.

The two part-time assistant public defenders who do custody cases will instead work solely on criminal defense. In all, with Mr. Cummings’ hiring, the office will now have 11 lawyers working on criminal defense instead of eight, Mr. Moran said.

“There’s a lot of work,” he said.

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