Saylor Pushes for More Equity for Public Defender’s Office

Supervisor Don Saylor on the left pushed for more funding for the Public Defender’s Office; Public Defender Tracie Olson on the right explained to the board their workload challenges

The data coming out of the county showed a large discrepancy in the resources allotted to the Yolo County Public Defender’s Office versus the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office.

If we look at the chart presented in Monday’s article that removes the positions “that the district attorney’s office believes have little to no impact on the public defender” (a point that some would dispute somewhat, but it gives us a decent starting point) we see that the attorneys are 31 for the DA’s office versus 23 for the public defender’s office.

If we consider, according to Tracie Olson on Tuesday at the Board of Supervisor’s meeting, that the public defender’s office represents clients in about 81 percent of all criminal cases before the courts, the nearly 35 percent greater attorney staffing in the DA’s office is a little disproportionate but not terribly so.  Where the huge discrepancy comes into play is the 22-5 investigator advantage, 14-6 clerical advantage, and 8-2 other support advantage – for 75 total staff members for the DA’s office versus 36 for the public defender’s office, and that is excluding positions for things like MDIC (Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center), Victim Services, Intake and Charging and IT units.

On Tuesday, Patrick Blacklock noted that the county is experiencing “limited growth in revenue,” which will limit the amount of staff increases that departments might be able to receive.  Public
Defender Tracie Olson noted that she initially asked for four additional positions – two paralegals, a social worker and an attorney.

The attorney she wanted was to help them under Padilla v. Kentucky which required accurate immigration advice to their clients.  However, a grant opportunity has come up through a relationship with the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic and she believes that they would have a competitive chance of receiving funds that way.

Supervisor Don Saylor, however, pushed beyond her immediate ask for three additional positions.  He said, “I want to be sure that low income people have equal access to justice.  I think that’s a responsibility for us as Board of Supervisors.

“I want you to feel free to ask for the resources you need to pursue that theme,” he continued.

Supervisor Saylor asked about ”how many of the 161 jury trials that we had in 2015 in Yolo County, the display does show that we’re one of the highest regardless of which way you count it, if it’s per 100,000 we are the highest…  If this is the situation, we should take a look at what are the standards for staffing.” He asked, “[D]o we need additional investigators?  Do we need additional attorneys?  Do we need additional paralegals or other support?”

He asked, of the 161 jury trials, how many of them were represented by the public defender’s office.

She responded, “When I did my annual report, I believe we were the attorney of record in 81 percent of the jury trials that were litigated in the county.”  There are different ways of measuring this.  The court, she explained, will count those 161 by defendant and so, if there is more than one defendant, it gets double counted.  “So my counts and the District Attorney’s counts will be lower because we count by number of juries that are empaneled.

“We were part of 81 percent of those cases,” she said.  She also said that of the cases with multiple defendants, maybe 20 percent of those had conflict panel attorneys and only a very small handful had more than one panel attorney (meaning three or more defendants).

Don Saylor noted, “This set of questions is not something we’re going to solve today.  It’s a longer review of the circumstance.”

Don Saylor also asked if there was a caseload standard.  He noted that the data in their packet showed case number, but not a comparison of staffing between Yolo County and other counties.

She explained, “There are some very old caseload staffing standards… that say 450 misdemeanor or  150 felony cases per attorney.”  She further explained, “That is a national standard, it doesn’t take into account California.  It certainly doesn’t take into account the new things that have occurred like Prop 47.”

She explained that, a few years ago, “I would start a newer attorney on a felony caseload and assign to them what I would call the more easy cases which would be drug possession, drug transportation, things like that.  Those are now all misdemeanors.  So now my felony attorneys are all handling assault cases, violent cases, gang cases, sales cases, cultivation cases … when that standard was created you could never have anticipated all these changes in what the case entails.”

The other thing Ms. Olson pointed out was that workload was as important as caseload.  She pointed to the her chief deputy working on the multi-month burglary case that has gone on for four to six months (the Vanguard has extensively covered it) and pointed out that over that time the attorney is easily working 80 hour weeks, nights and weeks, along with the other attorneys on the panel and one prosecutor – but it’s one case.  “So she’s had one case for the last five and a half months that has caused her to work 80 hours per week,” she explained.

She said, therefore, that she tries to look at workloads and there’s no state or national standard on that.

She said “that’s why I think you have to look at culture.”  She explained, “I gave you trial statistics because trials are easily the most intensive workload we’ll ever have.”

Supervisor Saylor said that when the laws and circumstances change, other areas of the criminal justice system are requesting more staffing and they are not seeing that from the public defender’s office “and I would like to see that change.”

He said, “We’ll not be able to do much more with this today, but I’m interested as we form the next year’s budget … that we take a look at how do we appropriately staff the public defender.”  He wants to see their requests based on what their actual needs are.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Come see the Vanguard Event – “In Search of Gideon” – which highlights some of the key work performed by the Yolo County Public Defender’s Office…

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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24 thoughts on “Saylor Pushes for More Equity for Public Defender’s Office”

  1. Jim Hoch

    And the judges that oversee the cases that go to trial. Do they feel the PD cases are inadequately prepared? A statement like “I want to be sure that low income people have equal access to justice” is much broader than how many people are in the PDs office. It would also encompass access to non-criminal remedies.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I don’t think in general judges weigh in on such things. I will say this – case loads in Yolo are much lower than elsewhere, but still too high especially with the amount of trials we have. I know that Judge Rosenberg and Beronio have been attempting to get more cases to settle, it’s not clear how effective those efforts have been.

      1. Jim Hoch

        Ultimately it’s about the product, otherwise it is just bureaucrats asking for budget. They should settle more cases. Usually DA’s are focused on the win rate and settling is a great way to keep that high.

      2. John Hobbs

        Settling is fine, given adequate legal advice. In most instances if charged with a crime, PDs are the best choice for defense. they know the ins and outs and in most cases are as vigorous in their defense as their clients situation allows. It is not just a matter of adequate staffing, either. The DA’s office has almost unlimited resources for forensics and expert witnesses.

        I’m glad Saylor is putting this out there and hope that it makes folks think about how the politics of justice may  defeat it’s goals.

      3. Howard P

        Am I missing something?  If DA’s office has more investigators, the results of which have to be shared with defense, particularly if exculpatory, where’s the ‘foul’?

        1. Eric Gelber

          Where’s the foul?

          Seriously? So, if you’re involved in a lawsuit–civil or criminal–you’d be OK if your attorney said, I’m not going to look into the the facts, but don’t worry, because the other side’s attorney will have to share whatever they turn up?

        2. John Hobbs

          “where’s the ‘foul’?”

          The DA doesn’t always play fair. Your DA has been known to hide the ball on a couple of occasions. He is given “bonuses” for certain convictions in the form of special grants from the feds.

        3. David Greenwald

          Howard:

          You’re missing a lot.  Only exculpatory discovery is mandatory to turn over.

          But the big problem is that without your own investigators you are relying on the DA’s evidence and not developing your own investigations that may go in a completely different direction.

          This is from Professor Mark Godsey’s book:

          “Defendants and defense attorneys, on the other hand, operate at a great disadvantage. The vast majority of defendants cannot afford to hire a team that matches what the prosecution has at its disposal—such as investigators to hit the streets and interview all the witnesses, and unlimited “experts” from a state crime lab to analyze the evidence and come up with seemingly slick CSI-type theories to support their theory of the case. The most that the typical defendant gets is an attorney—often appointed by the court—with little funds for bells and whistles like investigators or experts. At trial, the defense attorney usually has to take the prosecution’s evidence at face value, without building his or her own case to challenge the prosecution’s theory, and is limited to cross-examining the prosecution’s various witnesses. Money for experts is granted to defendants by the courts in some cases, but funds are limited in each jurisdiction and funds for investigators are even more difficult to come by. Thus, defendants are often at a competitive disadvantage unless they are very wealthy.”

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Sorry I was over-simplifying to make the point that if you are a defense attorney and just rely on the prosecution’s investigators and discovery, you are in trouble. Or could be anyway.

        4. Jim Hoch

          “Defendants and defense attorneys, on the other hand, operate at a great disadvantage” They generally have the advantage of knowing how the crime was committed and who did it. This puts them much further ahead in crafting a defense.

        5. Tia Will

          The “foul” in my opinion is a little more nuanced than is found in the comments so far. One’s perspective, ideology, experience, mood, and probably a whole host of other factors can influence how one perceives and interprets the same set of facts. Or on a more basic level, which findings at a scene, which statements by a witness, which circumstances are worth considering and which are insubstantial and therefore potentially not worth noting or reporting.

          I believe it is critical for the prosecution and defense to have equal resources to mount their own investigations.

  2. Eric Gelber

     Settling is fine, given adequate legal advice.

    Agree. It is about the product–but the product is effective assistance of counsel. Settlements should be based on what’s just based on the facts and circumstances, not based on undue pressures on defense counsel and, in turn, their clients due to excessive caseloads or inadequate resources.

  3. Jim Hoch

    “undue pressures on …  due to excessive caseloads or inadequate resources” The same often applies to prosecutors. They settle cases that victims would like to see prosecuted due to lack of resources and caseloads. 

    David, did you ask the DA for a tour of the facility?

  4. Jim Hoch

    From The Enterprise:

    “Deputy Public Defender Dave Muller, put a doctor on the stand who testified that that Ave “was likely suffering from ‘sexsomnia,’ which is a type of sleepwalking state in which the person engages in sex while asleep,” a condition brought on in part by alcohol.”

    Given this evidence maybe we need to reduce the PD’s budget. I wonder what they spend on the “sexsomnia” Doctor?

     

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