The board of directors of the Defender Association of Philadelphia has selected Keisha Hudson as the organization’s new leader.
Hudson was deputy chief public defender in Montgomery County from 2016 until February 2020, when she and her boss, chief defender Dean Beer, were abruptly fired in a controversial move by the county commissioners. Hudson and Beer sued the county in federal court and the case was reportedly settled earlier this year for $310,000, with the county paying $110,000 to Hudson.
From 2006 to 2016, Hudson worked as a federal defender. She got her start as an assistant public defender in Philadelphia from 2002 to 2006.
“The board’s decision to select Ms. Hudson followed an extensive national search,” Paul Hetznecker, president of the board of directors of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, said in a statement early Saturday. “With a proven record of collaborative leadership, public defender experience, and an extraordinary commitment to racial justice and criminal justice reform, Ms. Hudson is uniquely positioned to lead the Defender Association into the future.”
Hudson said in a statement: “The Defender Association is where my public defense career began. I am honored to have this opportunity to work with an incredible staff and the larger Philadelphia community in continuing the organization’s excellence in zealous advocacy and in pushing for much needed changes to our criminal justice system.”
Hudson replaces Keir Bradford-Grey, who stepped down in April to join a private law firm. Since then, Alan Tauber has been serving as interim chief defender.
Most recently, Hudson worked with a nonprofit organization called the Justice Collaborative. And Hudson has been a visiting professor at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law.
Hudson gained national prominence in February 2020, when she and Beer were fired from their top defender jobs in Montgomery County. The county’s removal of Hudson and Beer came shortly after the county forced the defender’s office to withdraw an amicus brief before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court alleging illegal bail practices in the county — setting bail in hearings without lawyers or consideration of ability to pay.
Their ouster sparked criticism and protests, and led Hudson and Beer to sue the county in federal court.
“Hudson was fired because she challenged statewide injustice by exposing the truth about Montgomery County’s unjust and unconstitutional bail system,” according to the complaint, which alleged that the county retaliated against her for exercising her First Amendment rights.
When it became public this year that the lawsuit had been settled, the county declined to comment on the resolution of the case because it was a personnel matter.
But in a statement to the Pottstown Mercury, a county spokesperson said that fixing the cash bail system in Montgomery County “has been the number-one criminal justice reform priority for this administration” and that the county has “worked diligently with the courts, public defender and the district attorney since 2018 on an initiative to identify best practices to end the unjust practice of incarcerating individuals, a disproportionate number of whom are African American, simply because they cannot afford the bail that was set.”