Budget on Defense
Death penalty cases spike defense costs for taxpayers, but cuts still loom large.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
The Monterey County Public Defender’s office is facing a nearly $300,000 shortfall for the fiscal year that ends this week – due almost entirely to the high costs of two cases in which defendants could face the death penalty.
“Death is different,” says County Public Defender Jim Egar. But the cost of the death penalty cases are the least of his budget concerns
The way he sees it, the county can expect greater defense costs in 2012 if it acts on a proposal to lay off two staff attorneys and three who work for the public defender under contract. A Board of Supervisors vote on the matter was postponed until July 12.
The public defender’s office spends about 20 percent of its annual $9 million budget on contract attorneys already, Egar says, and judges would appoint private attorneys if his office can’t afford to – but the county would still foot the bill.
“It doesn’t seem to me that there’s a genuine savings in laying off staff in this office,” Egar says, “because the courts are going to appoint those [attorneys] anyway, at a rate that’s more expensive.”
County Supervisor Simon Salinas echoes these concerns: “The court can say, ‘Private attorneys, take over.’ And that could be more costly for us.”
Egar says funding the defense of the indigent is unpopular (“It’s not a library and it’s not parks”), but because of the constitutional mandate to provide adequate defense, cash-poor governments can’t opt out.
Egar describes the discrepancy between his and the district attorney’s budget, which is double his, as “interesting.” But Deputy District Attorney Terry Spitz says that’s not an apples-to-oranges comparison.
“The whole budget scenario is going to have an impact,” Spitz says. “The entire system is being slowed down.”