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…