Public Defender Argues for $926,000 in Cost Savings

SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi will ask supervisors on Wednesday to allow him to fill seven vacant positions in his office–a move that could save the cash-strapped city $926,000 while ensuring equal justice for San Francisco’s poorest residents.

The resolution to fill the positions is sponsored by supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and David Campos. It will be heard at 11 am on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009 before the Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee.

While the Mayor’s office has refused to allow a single position to be filled in the Public Defender’s Office, it has approved 200 job hires for the district attorney, police, sheriff and probation departments in the last six months.

Crippled by a lack of staff, the Public Defender’s office has been forced to turn away approximately 400 felony and misdemeanor cases in the last three months and is expected to refuse 1,400 cases by the year’s end, Adachi said.

That means the city must outsource the cases to private attorneys at a price tag of at least $1.6 million, Adachi said.  Filling the seven positions would free up public defenders to handle in-house most of the cases being referred to private attorneys.

The cost of filling the vacant positions, according to the Board of Supervisors’ budget analyst, is approximately $640,000.

“The city has an impending $522 million deficit and must save wherever it can. By approving these seven positions, the city will save $926,000 in private attorney costs” Adachi said.

Adachi noted that the Superior Court, which is responsible for administering city funds paid to private attorneys, has already estimated that it will need an additional $3.2 million dollars to handle cases that are being declined by the Public Defender’s office due to insufficient staffing.

Each of the 28,000 low-income clients served annually by the Public Defender’s office must share an attorney with a crush of other defendants.

A report by the city’s controller found that public defenders in San Francisco work 50-60 hours per week, juggling caseloads that exceed by 50 percent the American Bar Association’s recommended caseload.  Each Deputy Public Defender handles about 70 felony cases or 100 misdemeanor cases at any given time.