Through his experiences, Elliot has exercised sound judgment and has learned how to make difficult decisions in the face of opposing objectives.
FATHER | MENTOR | CHIEF PUBLIC DEFENDER | ADJUNCT PROFESSOR
Growing up in Wilkinsburg, Elliot Howsie recognized the profound impact that decision making, hard work, and opportunity play in a person’s life.
Elliot’s father worked two full time jobs as a janitor to provide for their family. While some around Elliot made poor decisions, his father’s tenacity and his mother’s vision for his future encouraged him to follow a different path.
Education and Early Work
After graduating from Central Catholic High School, Elliot attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he earned his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in criminal justice.
As he pursued his master's degree in criminal justice, Elliot worked in social services teaching decision making and reintegration skills to the children at Shuman Juvenile Detention Center. In this role, Elliot met people at the lowest point in their lives and offered them a second chance. These experiences quickly made him realize that had one or two factors been different in his own life, that he may not have succeeded as he has.
While working two full time jobs himself, Elliot earned his Juris Doctor from Duquesne University School of Law’s evening program. He also served as an intern for the Public Defender’s Office and Neighborhood Legal Services. Elliot began his legal career as a law clerk for the Honorable Justin M. Johnson of the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
Elliot went on to serve as an Assistant District Attorney for five years in the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, where he focused on prosecuting cases involving child abuse. After leaving the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, he established his own law firm. He worked as a sole practitioner specializing in criminal defense as well as personal injury cases in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, the Pennsylvania Superior Court, and the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
On March 19, 2012, Elliot Howsie was appointed by Allegheny County Executive, Rich Fitzgerald, to be Allegheny County’s first African American Chief Public Defender. When Elliot began as Chief Public Defender, the office was in complete disarray - it was under an immense amount of pressure from the ACLU. The attorneys were not visiting their clients and the ACLU had alleged that the office was violating the constitutional rights of its clients. The PD's office was not performing well and taxpayer money was not being used wisely.
With the help of the management team, Elliot was able to turn the office around and improve the quality of the service that is offered. Today, clients do not languish in jail, attorneys are receiving the necessary training to effectively advocate on their client's behalf. As a result of these efforts, clients are receiving favorable outcomes. The budget has grown and the office now has the necessary resources to run effectively. And, for the first time in the history of the PD's office in Allegheny County, there are social workers working directly with the clients and their families.
Elliot’s ability to make difficult decisions, his unwavering dedication to ensuring quality representation, and his ability to work well with others has led him to be handpicked to serve on various committees in the criminal justice system. Notably, Attorney General Josh Shapiro chose Elliot to serve on the Justice Reinvestment Committee. Elliot was also appointed to the Institute of Politics charged with making recommendations to reform the Allegheny County criminal justice system.
Elliot’s commitment to helping others succeed has continued throughout his career. Elliot began to tutor first year law students, helping them adjust and excel law school. In turn, Elliot was hired as an Adjunct Professor at Duquesne University School of Law, where he teaches and mentors first year law students.
He also serves as Vice President on the Macedonia FACE Board of Directors and he was hand picked to be faculty of the Virginia School of Law Trial College. Previously, Elliot served on the Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board. Elliot has been sought to participate in panel discussions regarding the criminal justice system as well as social justice and reform.
True to his commitment and loyalty to his social service roots, Elliot also conducts expungement clinic at social service agencies in order to assist people obtaining gainful employment.
Elliot and his sons, Elliot and Evan.