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Auburn, Calif. – Placer County, like all other counties in the state, is required to provide legal representation to criminal defendants who cannot afford their own legal counsel. Because of the specialized nature of public defender work, the county contracts with law firms to provide these services.

The board of supervisors approved a six-month contract extension with the criminal defense firm that currently provides public defender services and directed county staff to further evaluate a proposal from a new firm, as well as the feasibility of creating a county public defender office.

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There are three ways counties can offer legal defense: by letting the court assign counsel to defendants; contracting for public defenders as the county currently does, or creating a county department where attorneys and staff are public employees. Placer County has been contracting for this service since 1971.

Periodically, the county will solicit proposals to continue providing public defender services to ensure it is meeting legal requirements and doing so with efficiency, economy and accountability. Last year, the county solicited initial proposals from law firms for public defense work. Working with the local superior court, proposals from four firms were evaluated. Of those, two were invited to submit full proposals.
The two submitted proposals showed a wide variation. One was for $20.5 million and the other bid was $27.7 million. Both bids were for a four-year period. The significant difference in the two bids is due to different models for defense work.

Staff did an initial evaluation of the cost of providing those legal services through a county department. Based on staffing models similar to the proposals, staff estimates the four-year total for a county public defender office to be about $30 million. A separate county department could create greater budget predictability. The county’s current contracts do not cover death penalty murder cases. There are two such cases working their way through the county’s superior court and cost estimates for defense counsel for these two cases is well in excess of $2 million.

“This is the opportunity to take a look at where we want to go. It makes sense to move in the direction of an in-house shop,” said District 1 Supervisor Jack Duran. “And not only for the cost savings, but to manage how justice is dispensed in our county.”

The board took the following actions:

  • Approved a six-month contract extension for $2.4 million with Richard Ciummo and Associates, the county’s current public defender contractor;
  • Approved a two-year contract extension for $3.2 million for conflict public defense services with the Law Offices of Mark A, Berg;
  • Approved a two-year contract extension for $636,000 for second level conflict public defender services with the Law Office of Dan Koukol;
  • Negotiate with the Law Office of Dan Koukol for primary public defender services; and
  • Directed staff to evaluate and develop an implementation plan for the possible creation of a county office of public defender.

Staff is expected to return to the board in about a month to present further analysis of a new proposal from the Law Office of Dan Koukol, as well as the feasibility of a county public defender office.

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