Gov. Andy Beshear recently reappointed Prestonsburg attorney John Rosenberg to the Kentucky Public Advocacy Commission.
He is the longest-serving member of the group, having served since 1994. He served as vice chair from 2001 to 2019.
“I was really pleased,” he said about the reappointment. “I do think we have a great statewide system here that I think we can be proud of. I’ve really appreciated being on the commission over the years.”
The commission oversees the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, which provides free legal services to low-income residents who are charged with crimes and other types of services to residents.
Statewide, the DPA operates 33 trial offices that represent indigent clients in criminal cases, civil contempt cases and involuntary commitment cases. The agency also has a post-trial division that helps defendants appeal criminal convictions and a law operations divisions that provides resources that assist each of those divisions. Its alternative sentencing staff work to obtain alternative sentencing, like substance abuse treatment, in lieu of incarceration for some clients, while its Protection & Advocacy division works to help people with disabilities.
The agency helps thousands of clients annually. Statewide, the Kentucky Department for Public Advocacy was assigned nearly169,000 cases in the state in 2019, and caseloads were 515 in Prestonsburg, 440 in Pikeville and 549 in Hazard.
In his 26 years on the commission, Rosenberg has seen numerous changes to public advocacy in Kentucky, particularly with the development of more public defender offices. Rosenberg praised the public defenders who are working to help these clients, reporting they are doing good work representing clients.
“The most important thing was the development of the statewide system,” he said. “It really was not, with a single person in charge, for even before I was on the commission, for many years.”
Prior to this system being established, Rosenberg explained that courts would contract with private attorneys to provide legal services to low-income individuals.
“In fact, years and years ago, a judge would just appoint a local lawyer to represent somebody, and for a while, for many years, they weren’t paid at all,” he said.
He said the system started out with few of these offices, and it since has grown to include offices and regional offices throughout the state.
“We really do have an excellent system statewide, with very good lawyers in all these offices,” he said. “The commission sort of oversees that from a policy prospective and gets reports on how we’re doing.”
Talking about a training program provided to public advocates, he also said, “It’s come a long way. It’s something Kentucky can take a great deal of pride in, is this system, because it’s admired around the country by other public defenders.”
A civil rights attorney with the Department of Justice in the from 1962 to 1970, Rosenberg fought discrimination and segregation in the south and moved to Prestonsburg years later, where he founded the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund, or AppalRed, which provides free legal aid to people living in poverty, and co-founded the Appalachian Citizens Law Center, a nonprofit law firm that represents coal miners and their families. He became a counsel to Pillersdorf, DeRossett & Lane and started working to help clients of convicted former attorney Eric C. Conn who lost their disability benefits.
Rosenberg is involved in numerous boards and organizations and has earned numerous honors for his work in the legal field and as a community leader. He served as a navigator and instructor navigator in the U.S. Air Force from 1954 to1957, earning the rank of captain.
He will serve on the commission through July 2022.