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Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, May 25 @ 2:02 p.m. / Community, Jail, Local Government
Del Norte Supes Create County Public Defender Position
• Del Norte Supes Agree to Restructure Public Defense System, Saying They Hope to Lighten High Caseloads
Del Norte County will begin recruiting for a chief public defender following approval from four supervisors Tuesday.
This action is the first step to creating a public defender’s office in Del Norte County. In addition to establishing a county public defender position it also creates a legal secretary classification, according to the staff report.
The Board’s vote comes two weeks after supervisors decided to implement a basic managed assigned counsel system to take the burden off the four contracted private attorneys currently providing indigent defense.
District 5 Supervisor Dean Wilson was absent on Tuesday. At the Board’s May 9 meeting, Wilson opposed restructuring the county’s public defense system.
The Board of Supervisors will appoint the county public defender who will be responsible for managing assignments for the contracted attorneys working with the office. On May 9, supervisors wanted to be sure the county public defender would take on court cases.
The county public defender’s salary would be in the same range as the county counsel’s salary, according to the staff report.
The decision to restructure the county’s public defense system comes after Laurel Arroyo, director of capacity building for the Office of the State Public Defender’s Indigent Defense Improvement Division, said the four private attorneys handling public defense have high case loads.
The lack of an office or support staff also made it difficult for attorneys to connect with clients, Arroyo said. Disciplinary action against an attorney whose performance was lacking was also a challenge since the only option was terminating their contract, whe said.
The county pays about $650,000 annually for the current system with money coming out of its general fund, according to County Administrative Officer Neal Lopez. On May 9, Lopez estimated that creating a basic MAC structure would cost about a little over $1 million. Having a county public defender’s office also makes Del Norte eligible for additional grant dollars, he said.