As promised, San Francisco Supervisor Sean Elsbernd has fired off a letter (.pdf) to the city controller seeking information on how Public Defender Jeff Adachi runs his office. Elsbernd has a lot of questions, probably in the hope that the answers will help him prove that Adachi has room to make budget cuts as the city faces a $500 million deficit.
Tit for detailed tat, after the jump:
Adachi has been campaigning since October to win $50,000 in appropriations to fund two paralegal positions that he says are essential for his office. Adachi told the mayor, the board of supervisors and the superior court that he will be forced to withdraw from “select homicide and other major cases” if the money doesn’t come.
Among the requests made by Elsbernd in his letter to the controller:
- What percentage of the Public Defender’s budget is used in defense of indigent and juvenile clients versus social work and other non-criminal defense functions?
- What is the average cost per case of private counsel appointed by the “conflicts counsel” versus counsel provided by the Public Defender? What is the average length of incarceration for clients represented by the “conflicts counsel” versus the Public Defender?
- What is the caseload comparison between misdemeanor and felony filings handled by the Office of the Public Defender over a ten-year period?
- What percentage of misdemeanor cases handled by the Public Defender are taken to jury trials? How does this compare to the defense of indigent clients facing misdemeanor charges in the peer counties (Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Los Angeles)? What were the dispositions of these cases in San Francisco and peer counties?
- Have social services and reentry work provided by the Office of the Public Defender been shown to reduce recidivism?
Reached for his response this evening, Adachi said he and Chief Attorney Teresa Caffese have developed a list of felony cases to withdraw from, though he declined to give any specifics. Adachi said the deputy public defenders assigned to those cases have begun consulting with their clients about the possible switch to private conflicts counsel, and that his office will begin withdrawing from at least some of the cases on the list by Friday.
Adachi said Elsbernd’s request amounts to an audit of his office, and that it represents “a huge waste of time and effort” and comes as obvious retaliation for his funding request.
“This is exactly what’s wrong with how things work some times in San Francisco government,” he said.
Needless to say, we’d love to see the answers to Elsbernd’s questions, but given that we’re somewhat skeptical that anything will ever come of this mess, we’ll help him out a bit. According to statistics released by the superior court and Adachi’s office, public defenders have handled roughly 55 percent of San Francisco’s misdemeanors over the last three years (2006-08). That’s misdemeanor arraignments handled by public defenders divided by total misdemeanor cases filed by the district attorney. But according to Adachi’s own annual report, available in eye-catching calendar form, his office actually handled 24 percent fewer arraignments in 2008 than they did the year before — dipping from 4,571 to 3,481 — thanks to a decrease in the DA’s filing rate. Hmm.. we wonder if the controller knows about that.
— Evan Hill