Profiles in Justice: Charging Unit Supervisor Bryan Barth
For the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) Charging Unit Acting Supervisor Bryan Barth, his interest in law and trial advocacy began while participating in high school debate teams while growing up in Northeast Philadelphia. Barth attended undergrad at Gettysburg College before going to Delaware Law School at Widener University. During law school he started as a DAO summer intern in 2014 and then officially joined the office in 2016 after passing the bar exam.
“Once I got the internship as a 1L, got exposed to the office and started doing prosecution work, that’s when I knew — within a couple of weeks — that this was what I wanted to do,” he said. “By that point I kind of just abandoned all hope of ever going to a private firm or anything. I was totally set on being a prosecutor.”
After customary stints in the office’s Municipal Court, Juvenile, and Family Violence and Sexual Assault Units, he eventually joined Charging in October of 2019.
“At the time I thought it would be a six month rotation but I ended up really loving it. I love being in this unit and the type of work we do. The crazy hours actually kind of suited me. Then once the pandemic hit, things kind of changed a lot.”
With the city’s court system coming to a halt as the pandemic set in, Barth continued to come in to the office and has been since March of last year.
“It can be hectic and I kind of thrive on that. You know, the phone’s ringing constantly, detectives are calling, you have emails coming in with search warrants, you get the discovery and charging packet but you’re also calling the detective to check that proper evidence is in order and making sure that you have all the information, because if you charge a case poorly then it’s just dead in the water before it even gets to Municipal Court.”
For Barth, working in Charging allows him to take more control of his work than he would otherwise have in other units. “You don’t have to rely on court calendars and judge and jury decisions that are out of your control, you really can embrace your own work.”
The pandemic has dramatically impacted Philadelphia’s justice system, and the DAO’s Charging Unit is no different. “For the first few weeks of lockdown, we didn’t even have a paralegal working so you were doing everything yourself, running background checks, looking up discovery, all of it.” But due to a Philadelphia Police Department policy limiting site arrests to only very serious crimes and issuing summons for court appearances for less serious ones, the work was manageable, according to Barth. As arrests scaled up and some types of crime started to climb, his work became more challenging with the unit’s skeleton crew. Added to these challenges was the critically important need to keep the city’s jail population low enough to avoid a viral outbreak and community health catastrophe. Barth and the rest of the Charging Unit were up to the task, however. Unlike many other jurisdictions across the country, local facilities avoided an outbreak, keeping defendants, corrections staff, and surrounding communities safe from COVID-19.
“Your decision making for bail really has to be fine tuned,” he added.
As Barth assumes his new position as the unit’s supervisor and the pandemic enters perhaps its darkest phase, he looks forward to working with his team of attorneys and paralegals to continuing to find that balance between fairness, public safety, and public health.