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 | JUDGE
Growing up in Wilkinsburg, Judge Howsie recognized the profound impact that decision making, hard work, and opportunity play in a person’s life.
Judge Howsie’s father worked two full time jobs as a janitor to provide for their family. While some around Judge Howsie 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, Judge Howsie 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 criminology, Judge Howsie worked in social services teaching decision making and reintegration skills to the children at Shuman Juvenile Detention Center. In this role, Judge Howsie 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, he may not have succeeded as he has.
While attending law school at Duquesne University School of Law’s evening program, Judge Howsie worked two full time jobs in the social service field. During the day, Judge Howsie provided intensive home-based family therapy and suppport services to families that were active with Family Court. During the evenings and weekends, Judge Howsie worked as a residential counselor at the Whale’s Tale/Family Links Independent Living Program. Prior to earning his Juris Doctor, Judge Howsie served as an intern for the Public Defender’s Office and Neighborhood Legal Services. Upon graduating from Duquesne University School of Law, Judge Howsie began his legal career as a law clerk for the Honorable Justin M. Johnson of the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
Judge Howsie went on to serve as an Assistant District Attorney in the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office for five years. As a prosecutor, he focused on prosecuting cases involving the physical and sexual abuse of children. After leaving the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, he established his own law firm. He worked as a solo practitioner, specializing in criminal defense as well as personal injury cases. Judge Howsie has practiced 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, the Allegheny County Executive, Richard Fitzgerald, appointed Judge Howsie to become the first African American Director of the Public Defender’s Office in the history of Allegheny County. When Judge Howsie was appointed to serve as the Chief Public Defender, the ACLU was threatening to file another lawsuit against the office for violating the civil rights of its clients due to ineffective legal representation. The attorneys were failing to meet with their clients or prepare for trial, which resulted in many of the clients spending inordinate periods of time in jail, awaiting trial. In some instances, clients were forced to plead guilty simply to get out of jail, despite the fact that they had viable defenses to their charges. The Public Defender's Office was underperforming and wasting taxpayer money.
Under Judge Howsie's leadership, the Allegheny County Public Defender’s Office became one of the preeminent offices in Pennsylvania. The budget of the Public Defender’s Office was increased to $10.3 million dollars annually. Furthermore, the office became the second Public Defender’s Office in Pennsylvania to hire a full time Manager of Training to develop performance standards and provide mandatory training to the attorneys and support staff. Attorneys were required to meet regularly with their clients and supervisors. Additionally, Judge Howsie established a recruiting program to attract more qualified attorneys. In turn, the attorney’s caseloads were drastically reduced and the overall quality of client representation improved tremendously and clients no longer languish in jail.
Also, for the first time in the history of the Public Defender’s Office, attorneys were required to represent clients during Preliminary Arraignments, when bail is initially set. Judge Howsie hired Social Workers to work with the attorneys, to identify resources and get the clients involved in drug and alcohol treatment and mental health counseling. This approach enabled clients to address the issues which contributed to their involvement in the Criminal Justice System and resulted in an 18% reduction in jail admissions for low level, nonviolent offenses. Consequently, clients are better able to move on with their lives after having been involved with the Criminal Justice System.
Judge Howsie’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 being 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. In 2016, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Emeritus, Mark Nordenberg, appointed Judge Howsie to the Institute of Politics Committee. That same year, Judge Howsie was also appointed to the Criminal Justice Advisory Board. Both of these committees worked collectively to identify methods for improving the Criminal Justice System in Allegheny County.
In 2019, a vacancy appeared on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and Senator Jay Costa recommended Judge Howsie, then the Chief Public Defender, for Nomination by Pennsylvania's Governor. Judge Howsie then went before the PA Senate Judiciary Committee, was recommended for appointment, and later confirmed unanimously by the entire PA Senate body to serve as judge on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.
Judge Howsie has a demonstrated commitment to helping others succeed. In 1998, Judge Howsie began to tutor first year law students, in order to help them adjust to the rigors of law school. As a result of Judge Howsie’s efforts and commitment, he was hired as an Adjunct Law Professor at Duquesne University School of Law, where he continues to teach and mentor first year law students.
Judge Howsie currently serves as Vice President of the Board of Directors for Macedonia FACE, a community based social service agency, that serves the needs of families in Allegheny County, focusing on housing and food insecurity and socio economic issues related to health and wellbeing. He was hand picked to serve on the faculty of one of the nation's most prestigious trial advocacy programs at the University of Virginia School of Law. Previously, Judge Howsie served on the Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board, and he has participated 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, Judge Howsie understood the need for people to remove offenses from their criminal records that prohibit them from getting housing and gainful employment. Judge Howsie volunteered to teach people the process for legally expunging their criminal records and eventually began conducting expungement clinics at social service agencies in Allegheny County.
Elliot and his sons, Elliot and Evan.