San Luis Obispo County public defender’s office runs out of money

April 22, 2010

The San Luis Obispo County public defender’s budget is about $500,000 in the red and the Board of Supervisors is being asked to intervene. (Tribune]

According to a staff report, there is only $50 left in the public defender’s $5 million budget. The cost of recent high-profile trials, including hard-money lenders Karen Guth and Josh Yaguda, have been used to explain the budget deficit.

Supervisors will address the issue next Tuesday and decide whether to authorize $512,000 from their contingency funds.

Guth and Yaguda turned to county public defenders after their assets were frozen. Attorney fees in that case were about $300,000, a bill that the county is obligated to pay. The North County mother and son recently pled guilty to 25 felony counts.

The public defender’s office also saw an increase in expenses, including more money for expert witnesses and investigators. This follows a decision last year to trim the defender’s budget by $470,000.

Approving the transfer on Tuesday requires a four-fifths vote of the supervisors.

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Let the defendants get up and explain their situation in court. The judge will help them. If they are innocent, let some lawyer sue on their behalf. The reason this has happened is because of excessive payments to public defenders. It seems like the lawyers perpetuate themselves. Now the chicken has come home to roost. OR: let the public defenders take the cases pro-bono. This would certainly increase the respect for these mostly worse than bad used car salesmen.

Part of the problem is that this story does not set forth the full facts, and its responses are based upon a lack of information. The budget in the red includes not only the payments to the contracted offices that constitute the public defender, the conflict public defender, and the alternate conflict public defender, but also the payments to private counsel who are appointed when there are either multiple defendant cases or conflicts are declared by all levels of contract defenders. The Guth/Yaguda case was a situation where the Orange County lawyers who were initially retained (and the money ran out) were ultimately appointed by the judge, as all the contract level of public defenders indicated that each office would be unable to handle the rest of its clients if appointed to handle the case in what amounted to mid stream. The County’s cost of indigent defense is substantially less of it budget (percentage wise) than that of nearly every other county in the State. The lawyers are contracted, meaning that the county does not pay any benefits (health ins., retirement) to them. This county has been getting a good deal for years, as compared to having a county entity public defender (as is the case in Santa Barbara County and Monterey County), and finally, after years of ignoring the issue, the County is finally assessing defendants for the costs of their appointed lawyers. Let’s get the facts right next time.

Take it from the sherriff’s department budget and the local police department budgets. It would be unfair to bill defendants who were found innocent, and they already charge for jail time. If you take away someone’s ability to drive, you are not going to make it easier for them to pay.


Weber County closed its public defenders office earlier this year. The ACLU claims closing that office saved the city around $100,000.

Close it like Weber County did.

Make all defendants reimburse the county,even if it take them years,for jail time as well.

Do a cost analysis breakdown and tag the bill on their drivers license and tax returns.

If they don’t pay , they can’t drive or get a tax return.