County Funding Skews Even More Toward District Attorney, Sheriff, Away from Public Defender

Supervisor Don Saylor (left), Public Defender Tracie Olson right in 2017

Yolo County – In 2017, Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor pushed for more equity in funding for the public defender’s Office.  At that time, there was a comparison of staffing levels that showed 31 attorneys in the DA’s office versus 23 for the public defender’s office.

But the 35 percent attorney staffing discrepancy was dwarfed by the overall resource advantage: 22 to 5 investigator advantage, 14 to 6 clerical advantage, and 8 to 2 other support advantage—for 75 total staff members for the DA’s office versus 36 for the public defender’s office.

Supervisor Don Saylor 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.”

But the current appropriations show that, if anything, the discrepancy has gotten worse since 2017.

While the public defender’s office increased its budget from $7.1 million in 2017-18 to $8.9 million recommended for 2020-21, the DA’s office saw its budget increase by over $6 million, while the sheriff’s department increased by $10 million.

All of this comes at a time when counties and cities are re-thinking their allocation of law enforcement expenditures and re-imagining ways to decouple mental health and other services from law enforcement.

Speaking to a number of people familiar  with conditions, one of the key points made is that we have a jail with the capacity of 455.  But with criminal justice reforms and now COVID-19, the jail is running at half its capacity.

The DA has made a point of each person released from jail, on zero-bail or otherwise granted early release, committing new crimes, but that number is less than 20 people.  Less than five percent of those released early have re-offended.

People who are being held in custody in general are not able to meet bail, and people who pose a low level risk to the community can be released without a serious risk to the community—and increasingly it has been shown that crime can stay down despite early releases.

As the LA Times noted in late May, critics of these reforms have pointed out repeatedly the criminals who have re-offended open release.

“Judges, they say, have ordered ‘early release’ or issued criminals ‘get out of jail free’ cards. Criminals are ‘laughing at us.’ Instead of catching crooks, police must resort to ‘catch and release’ because their ‘hands are tied’ by leftist reformers pursuing ‘socially progressive goals,’” the Times editorial board wrote.  “This is all bunk.”

But as the Times notes, every time the voters and legislature has adopted reforms, the “critics again said crime would skyrocket. But all along, crime has plummeted.”

It’s not just jail capacity, however.  It is re-imagining the criminal justice system.

The discussion in 2017 was bracketed by an examination of the over-charging of cases in Yolo County.

At that time, Yolo County had more trials per capita than anywhere else in the state.

According to the Judicial Council’s 2016 Court Statistics Report, “in 2014-15 Yolo County conducted more felony and misdemeanor jury trials per capita than every other county in the state.”

Now the focus has shifted to a look at law enforcement itself.  Budgets are a reflection of values.  Here’s our county’s value: $50 million for sheriff, $24 million for probation, $23.8 million for DA, versus $8.9 million for indigent defense and $5.9 million for child support services.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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1 Comment

  1. Ron Glick

    If fewer dollars for the DA’s office means fewer jury summonses for stupid nonsense I’m for it. I was recently called and wasted half a day sitting in the juror waiting room. Never even got called to a courtroom. There were perhaps fifty of us. Many of these people had to miss work. Another time I was called for a petty theft shop lifting trial. Does anybody up there do a cost benefit analysis on juror lost wages versus the value of the losses from the crime? Instead of prosecuting the perp it would have been cheaper to get the guy to the food bank.

    I’m all for the right to a jury trial if its serious but there needs to be another way for nonsense. If cutting the DA budget means fewer needless trials I’m for it.

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