According to local attorney Mark Nareau, the county could save about $750,000 over three years if it contracted the public defender’s services to his newly formed consortium of five attorneys.
But Lassen County Public Defender Rhea Giannotti said the annual savings would only be about $58,000.
During their discussions, board members have expressed several opinions on the issue and whether a private business can provide the service more effectively than a government entity.
While the supervisors are obviously interested in saving money, they also expressed concerns about the quality of service indigent citizens would receive from a private contractor.
They also expressed concern about a private contractor providing a constitutionally guaranteed service to citizens.
Former County Administrative Officer John Blacklock also told the board despite Nareau’s promise the cost would not rise during the three-year term of his proposed contract, costs frequently rise during the course of county contracts, and the county has little option but to pay those costs.
In addition, Blacklock said there are a number of costs associated with the public defender’s office that are incurred regardless of who provides the services.
And Blacklock pointed out the public defender’s office would need to complete cases it’s already started, further reducing the initial savings.
While the stage has been set for the supervisors to make a decision regarding one of these two alternatives, there is a third option the board could consider, one that works well in neighboring Plumas County.
Local attorneys appointed on a case-by-case basis by the Plumas County Superior Court provide public defender services in Plumas County.
The court simply appoints a pre-approved attorney whenever a county resident is deemed financially eligible for the services of the public defender.
Lassen County already makes similar appointments whenever the public defender’s office has a conflict. Conflicts arise when the public defender’s office represents one party charged with a crime.
To avoid a potential conflict with the differing interests of two parties, a codefendant charged with the same crime would have to be represented by another attorney.
Everyone, regardless of their economic station, has a right to a vigorous and adequate legal defense when charged with a crime and a conviction may deprive them of liberty or life.
That guarantee should be afforded to every American citizen. We anticipate the board will consider all the possibilities before it with great care.
The board also will take up the issue of the public defender’s office using local private investigators or a contractor from Reno, Nev.
The items come before the board again at its Tuesday, Jan. 17 meeting. Members of the public who would like to comment should attend the meeting that begins at 9: 30 a.m. at the board’s chambers, located at 707 Nevada St., Susanville.
Public participation and comment on these and other issues facing the county remain a vital link in our representative democracy.
|< Prev||Next >|