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Pennsylvania justice urges ban on defender group

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By MARK SCOLFORO
Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania's chief justice says the state Supreme Court should ban lawyers from an organization that handles appeals by many of the convicted murderers on death row.

Chief Justice Ronald Castille (kah-STEEL') took that position in a 97-page single-justice opinion issued late Wednesday. The opinion resolved a number of issues surrounding a decision he wrote three years ago that also criticized the Philadelphia-based Federal Community Defender Office.

Castille says the group has engaged in abusive and unethical practices that warrant removing its lawyers from all Pennsylvania cases.

He says they can overwhelm courts, causing delay after delay, and that they improperly use federal grant money to finance post-conviction appeals in state courts.

Chief Federal Defender Leigh Skipper, who heads the organization, didn't return several phone messages seeking comment.

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