Hit with an executive order to take a third monthly furlough day, the attorneys in the state public defender’s office aren’t exactly plotting more time on the local golf courses.
With court-ordered deadlines approaching in their clients’ death penalty appeals, these attorneys will find themselves working on days they’re not getting paid, said state Public Defender Michael Hersek.
“Those attorneys, regardless of whether we’re opened or closed, must continue working on those cases,” he said.
There's a word for when someone forces you to work but doesn't pay you for it, but it's not used after the jump.
Three furlough days will cost some deputy defenders roughly $1,300 a month in pay, a sad thought for anyone, but worse still for lawyers who often make less than their counterparts in other public agencies, Hersek said.
The third day off stings even more because deputies in the attorney general’s office are not taking any furlough days. Constitutional officers, including Attorney General Jerry Brown, have challenged the governor’s authority to furlough their workers. Although a Sacramento County Superior Court ruled earlier this year that the governor can indeed order the AG’s employees to take unpaid time off, that decision has been stayed pending an appeal in the Third District.
“Certainly I’ve heard among my staff that they think it’s grossly unfair,” Hersek said. “But the attorney general is a constitutional officer and we understand the difference.”
The furloughs, coupled with a staff shrunk by departures and ongoing vacancies, have created an enormous workload. The office has only been able to accept one new appeal this year, Hersek said.
“An agency of our caliber should be able to, on average, take 10 to 15 appointments in a calendar year,” he said. A backlog of Death Row inmates awaiting appellate counsel that had dipped into the mid-60s is growing again and has now reached the mid-80s, he added.
Though the furloughs are widely despised, most employees of the public defender’s office prefer the unpaid days to widespread layoffs, Hersek said.
— Cheryl Miller
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