The San Francisco budget battles are (basically) over, and while Public Defender Jeff Adachi (pictured at right) has pulled his office back toward its fighting weight, he’s still nearly $1 million in the red. That means potential layoffs and continued understaffing, Adachi said Thursday. He also said that he’ll have to begin referring cases to private lawyers and may withdraw his office from representing defendants at the Community Justice Center, a move that could bring proceedings at that experimental court to a near halt.
In a bit of political déjà vu, the board of supervisors voted Tuesday to strip funds from the superior court’s indigent defense budget and transfer some to Adachi. In June, the board took $1.2 million from the indigent defense fund. From that money and the additional $900,000 taken Tuesday, it has given Adachi $950,000. The supervisors also agreed to give $250,000 of Tuesday’s take to the district attorney’s office.
After the jump, some "consolation" for the local courts: Sure, we have taken $2 million from Peter to pay Paul. But it's only because we have much more confidence in Peter's ability to beg for handouts from the mayor ...
Since January, Adachi has tussled with supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom over cuts to his budget. During that process, Adachi had said his office was effectively being put $1.9 million in the hole. With the budget now approved by the board and awaiting Newsom’s signature, he’s about halfway toward making that up.
Reached at a conference in New York on Thursday, Adachi said that he will have to lay off as many as 10 or 11 lawyers if he can’t find supplemental funding or other places to cut. He said he would also consider furloughs, and that some people in the office have told him they plan to retire, which would save some money.
He also said he will consider withdrawing his lawyers from the Community Justice Center, a Newsom pet project that the court has thus far supported. The CJC has been the source of contentious political debate in San Francisco, and Adachi has questioned its effectiveness.
“Currently I don’t have the staff to send there,” Adachi said.
Michael Yuen, the superior court’s chief financial officer, said the court was “shocked” at the amount the board stripped from them. Their indigent defense fund was set to be $9.5 million for the 2009-10 fiscal year, but the two rounds of cuts have reduced it by $2.1 million. Yuen said, and the supervisors acknowledged Tuesday, that the court will have to come back to the board for supplemental funding, perhaps as early as the end of the calendar year.
Supervisor David Campos said the board’s decision-making was based on a political calculation: If it forced Adachi to come back later for supplemental funding, he’d be less likely to get it than the superior court, so best to help the public defender’s office now.
“For whatever reason, in the process of developing a budget for the public defender and the people that are served by that office, the [Newsom] administration has not been as receptive to … that need as I think they should be,” Campos said at Tuesday’s hearing. “And let’s be frank, I think they’re going to be more receptive if the focus of the discussion is the trial courts and not the public defender.”
Adachi said Thursday that he still plans on coming back for supplemental funding. But for now, his lobbying (and flier-ing) has paid off, at least somewhat.
“I went to almost every [political] club in the city over the last three months to talk about the situation, and I found very strong support,” Adachi said, adding that he had probably visited a dozen, including the city Democratic Club, the Irish-American Democratic Club and the Chinese American Democratic Club. “Somehow San Francisco got it wrong, and I think I had to take the position that I did. I’m grateful that we received a partial restoration.”
— Evan Hill