San Francisco – A report released by the San Francisco City Controller on the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office case costs has found that the office’s representation of 28,000 people each year is the most efficient and cost-effective way to provide legal representation to those who cannot afford lawyers, according to Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

“The findings of this report show that cutting the Public Defender’s Office by $1.9 million would cost the city as much as $1.4 million more per year if my office is forced to outsource 2,600 cases to private attorneys,” Adachi said.

According to the report, the cost of having the Public Defender’s Office handle felony or misdemeanor cases is much less than outsourcing cases to private attorneys, who charge $85-$120 per hour. According to the Controller’s analysis, it costs the city as much as 10% less per felony case to have the public defender provide representation. In misdemeanor cases, it costs the city as much as 25% less per case to have a public defender provide representation.

The report also noted that the Public Defender’s Office provides many services not offered by private attorneys, such as helping over 2,000 people each year clear their records upon proof of rehabilitation.

The report also analyzed the office’s caseload, finding that the Public Defender’s Office has experienced an 18% increase in felony cases since FY 2000-2001 and a reduction in misdemeanor cases. According to Adachi, the Public Defender’s Office has also experienced a 33% increase in serious cases, including homicide.

“The increase is also due to the fact that in this economic downturn, fewer San Franciscans can afford to hire an attorney,” said Adachi.

The Report found that the office’s felony attorneys carry 45% over the maximum recommended caseloads, and that attorneys handling misdemeanor cases handle 66% over the recommended caseload, according to a national standard set by the National Advisory Committee.

In addition, the Controller’s Report found that the office had reduced its staff by six positions, that its attorneys had voluntarily taken pay reductions to help the city address its deficit and that cases handled by deputy public defenders had fewer delays.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering the Public Defender’s request to restore budget cuts to the department later this week.

Link to the Controller’s Report.


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