In the midst of San Francisco’s $500 million deficit, Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s strategy of budget brinksmanship may come back to bite him next week. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd told Legal Pad today that he will move on Tuesday to counter Adachi’s request for $50,000 to pay for two paralegals, by proposing legislation to cut one of Adachi’s pet programs, or alternatively by requesting an opinion from the city controller’s office to force Adachi’s hand.
“I don’t buy Jeff’s argument that it’s constitutionally required that we fund him. I think that’s ridiculous,” Elsbernd said. “That said, conceding that point to him, are BMAGIC or Mo’Magic, some of these programs he has, constitutionally mandated?”
He added that he hasn’t begun working with any of his colleagues on the issue and doesn’t want to pursue legislation – perhaps even an emergency ordinance – to defund Adachi’s programs, but rather hopes that an opinion from the city controller will lead Adachi to “do the right thing.”
“In the face of that kind of public report, is Jeff going to keep insisting on what he’s doing?” he asked.
See if you can read the tea leaves, after the jump ...
Adachi’s BMAGIC and Mo’Magic programs -- Mobilization for Adolescent Growth in our Communities –- sponsor back-to-school celebrations and backpack giveaways in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point, Western Addition and Fillmore neighborhoods. He’s so far failed in lobbying the mayor and the supes for the two paralegal positions that he says are essential for his attorneys to continue representing their indigent clients. The mayor denied Adachi in October, the supervisors rebuffed him last week, and on Wednesday, Adachi responded with a letter (.pdf) to Mayor Gavin Newsom, supervisors’ President David Chiu and Superior Court Presiding Judge James McBride saying that he will begin declining “select homicide and other major cases” on Feb. 1 if he doesn’t receive the money. Adachi has said that referring those cases to private attorneys will cost the city $1 million.
“Supervisor Elsbernd is I guess entitled to do whatever he thinks is appropriate, and I’ll do whatever I think is appropriate,” Adachi told Legal Pad today. “I feel the path that I took, bringing it to the mayor and the board, was the most responsible one.”
Elsbernd said that “the board did make a pretty strong decision … when we did not bow down to the gun he put to our heads, and now he’s trying to pull the trigger. … [Adachi] doesn’t get past the threshold question of, ‘Is he being a responsible department head,’ and I don’t believe he is.”
The two paralegal positions Adachi wants to fund became vacant in August and October.
The mayor’s office claims Adachi could have found the money to fill them himself. A mayoral spokesman contends that cutting spending in areas like social workers, travel and training expenses could have saved upwards of $115,000.
For his part, Adachi says he has recently made cuts, like other city departments, reducing his office’s budget by $650,000.
Adachi said it would be “questionable” if the supervisors, “for political reasons, choose to target one department and seek to dictate what the public defender should or shouldn’t be doing.”
— Evan Hill