SF Public Defender Calls Supervisor’s Audit a Waste of Public Resources

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San Francisco, CA – San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi on Thursday promised cooperation with Supervisor Sean Elsbernd’s call for an audit of the public defender’s office, but accused Elsbernd of engaging in petty retaliatory politics that are wasting valuable resources.

“I think that this unnecessary audit will result in an incredible waste of staff hours, for both the Controller’s office and my office. While I intend to fully cooperate with the audit, clearly this was done in retaliation,” Adachi said.

Adachi, whose office is contending with a dramatic increase in representation of defendants facing serious criminal charges, previously renewed a request to fill two paralegal positions that were vacated last year.

Adachi submitted justifications showing that paralegals were necessary to perform work that would otherwise have to be handled by lawyers at a higher cost. The paralegal positions were approved in his 2008-2009 fiscal year budget, but were subsequently disallowed by the Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee and the Mayor’s Office.

According to Adachi, the cost of hiring two paralegals is $50,000. He told the supervisors’ committee that if he didn’t receive the paralegal support, he would be forced to stop taking new cases, likely costing the county between $500,000-$1,000,000 to hire private lawyers for indigent criminal defendants over the next year.

After a hearing, in which Elsbernd criticized Adachi, the supervisor sent a letter to Controller Ben Rosenfield to request an audit of the Public Defender’s Office covering 10 years.

The inquiry also requires comparisons to public defender offices in other California counties, including Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Los Angeles, and reveals what Adachi considers an “utter lack of regard for how the criminal justice system functions.”

“Supervisor Elsbernd wants to examine the dispositions of every misdemeanor and felony case public defenders have handled over the past decade, some 200,000 cases. And comparisons to counties such as Los Angeles, which has 39 public defender offices and serves a population of nearly 10 million, are patently absurd. It’s even more ridiculous that he would ask the City to spend tens of thousands of dollars on it,” Adachi said.

In the meantime, Adachi has already instructed his staff to begin compiling the requested information. “I’ve always had a good working relationship with the Controller and am happy to cooperate with him,” he said.

However, the Public Defender is concerned that the audit may require the use of resources that should be focused on providing legal representation to poor people.

“Supervisor Elsbernd unfairly accuses me of not being able to manage my budget. In fact, I am part of a taskforce of criminal justice agencies working with the Controller’s office to save San Francisco millions of dollars by making the court system more efficient,” Adachi said. “I would much rather be working on how to save the county millions instead of wasting my staff’s time responding to the audit.”

The mission of the Public Defender’s office is to provide vigorous, effective, competent and ethical legal representation to persons who are accused of crime and cannot afford to hire an attorney. Established in 1921, the San Francisco Public Defender has a long, proud history of providing top-notch representation to its clients, and championing programs that help people turn their lives around.

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