Local attorney Christian DeFilippo has pushed to give those in need access to legal help.
Now, he is switching from the civil arena to the criminal field as an assistant public defender.
DeFilippo joined the Adams County Public Defenders’ Office on June 3 after assisting those less fortunate with civil matters through his work at MidPenn Legal Services.
Through that job, DeFilippo got to work “with that group of individuals that deserve access to the courts,” he said, noting he focused on mortgage foreclosures.
“It is a significant area of the law,” said DeFilippo, a Mount Joy Township resident. “They are losing their homes and their everything.”
While the work was “difficult,” DeFilippo said he saw “the benefit of it” by helping others.
In his new role, DeFilippo hopes to do the same, but with criminal matters.
The job of a public defender is “almost like a calling,” according to DeFilippo.
“You are representing individuals who have a constitutional right to be represented and have so much to lose,” DeFilippo said, adding he gravitated toward criminal law when in law school.
Since jumping into this position, DeFilippo feels as thought he is “being immersed in a different country.”
“The language is different,” DeFilippo said. “The risk to the defendant is so high in a lot of these cases. They are losing their liberty potentially.”
The 36-year-old will have been a practicing attorney for two years in October, he said.
Becoming a lawyer was “a second career” for DeFilippo, who originally taught high school English.
When moving here from Pittsburgh with his wife, DeFilippo was a substitute teacher in area school districts. But he struggled to find a full-time teaching position, he said.
“I liked substitute teaching, but it was not what I got into the teaching profession for,” DeFilippo continued.
DeFilippo always had an interest in the law and got into Widener University Commonwealth Law School in Harrisburg.
“It was kind of like a second career, but it definitely feels meant to be,” DeFilippo said.
DeFilippo’s background with high school age students “has been helpful,” since he is taking on juvenile cases, he said.
DeFilippo pointed out how he feels he can make a difference for juveniles, who are at an important “turning point” in their lives.
“I feel blessed to have that opportunity,” he said.
Public defender positions were created to serve a need, representing “all juveniles who commit criminal offenses and to financially-qualified individuals in adult criminal cases, parole/probation and intermediate punishment revocation matters, protection from abuse, contempt causes, cases involving alleged contempt of court for non-payment of fines and costs and mental health involuntary commitment hearings,” according to Adams County Chief Public Defender Kristin Rice.
To qualify for representation, officials look at a person’s income and personal assets, using “an eligibility threshold of 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines,” she said.
Adams County Commissioners approved DeFilippo as an assistant public defender at their May 15 meeting after Sean Mott left his role to become an Adams County assistant solicitor in March.
“We are delighted to have him join us because he has shown in his work for MidPenn Legal Services that he shares our dedication to securing justice for all people, regardless of their ability to pay for an attorney,” Rice said.
DeFilippo said he’s learned so much after just a month on the new job.
From learning about the criminal justice process to sentencing and the guidelines, DeFilippo said it has been “like an avalanche” of information.
DeFilippo said he is grateful for the support of his coworkers in the public defenders’ office.
“I wanted to be around mentors to help me in this process. That is exactly what I have,” DeFilippo added. “They are more than willing to help. They are helping me find my voice.”