Friday, June 28, 2002
County Budget Cuts May Shift Some Public Defender Costs to Court—Officials
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Superior Court will be forced to pick up the bill for cases that cannot be handled by the Public Defender’s Office due to staffing shortages under the county budget approved Wednesday, court officials said yesterday.
The county Board of Supervisors denied a request from Public Defender Michael Judge for 10 additional attorneys to cover the increased number of cases that Judge said the office must handle as a result of court unification, the implementation of Proposition 36, which requires treatment instead of incarceration for many drug offenders, and the opening of the Chatsworth courthouse earlier this month.
Chief Deputy Public Defender Robert Kalunian said the lack of additional attorneys means the office will have to declare itself “unavailable” on 10 caseloads and the court will have to appoint private counsel.
“We realize there is a shortage of available funds, but we have very critical needs,” Kalunian said.
If the Public Defender’s Office, 646 trial attorneys strong, declares itself unavailable in the case of an indigent criminal defendant, and the Alternate Public Defender’s Office cannot pick up the slack, the court appoints an attorney from the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s panel of lawyers.
When the Superior Court appoints an attorney, it picks up the tab, court spokesman Kyle Christopherson said.
Lawyers from the County Bar’s Indigent Criminal Defense Appointments Program are assigned to a case based on their experience and the seriousness of the crime and the sentence.
ICDA attorneys are paid hourly. They are not given benefits and there is no overhead, ICDA directing attorney Cathy Dreyfuss said.
A deputy public defender handling misdemeanors averages 1,200 cases a year and an attorney defending felonies averages 180 cases annually, Kalunian said.
The Alternate Public Defender’s Office also received some cuts, but mainly in services and supplies and nothing that would impact the service provided by the office, Alternate Public Defender Janice Fukai said.
“We’ll be able to stretch it,” Fukai said.
The board delayed taking action on two motions by Supervisor Michael Antonovich for the Alternate Public Defender’s Office that would have provided funding for an attorney to staff the Mental Health Juvenile Court, headed up by Judge Clifford Klein, and funding for a supervising paralegal.
The office handles a large number of capital cases and uses paralegals to conduct background checks and research in the penalty phase of cases and there is a need for a supervisor, Fukai said.
The District Attorney’s Office received $2.3 million to prosecute welfare fraud, but the board put off deciding whether to continue to fund the office’s Justice System Integrity Division and Elder Abuse Unit until budget discussions in September.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company