San Luis Obispo County public defenders sued for malpractice

November 12, 2018


The family of a mentally ill man who died in the San Luis Obispo County Jail is suing two San Luis Obispo County public defenders and a law firm under contract with the county for malpractice and negligence leading to death. [Cal Coast Times]

The suit filed earlier this month claims San Luis Public Defenders (formerly Maguire and Ashbaugh), and attorneys Patricia Ashbaugh and Ron Crawford, breached their duties as practicing attorneys and left Russell Hammer “to languish and to die in SLO County’s unsafe jail.” Attorney Paula Canny filed the suit on behalf of Hammer’s wife.

On Nov. 6, 2017, Hammer, 62, stabbed his wife at a Morro Bay recreational vehicle park. Hammer’s wife told Morro Bay police officers her husband suffered from physical and mental health issues and asked them not to arrest him. After a local physician concluded Hammer was suffering from dementia and psychosis, officers booked him into the SLO County Jail with his bail set at $100,000.

During his arraignment on Nov. 8, 2017, Ashbaugh represented Hammer, who was too ill to attend. Ashbaugh did not request a hearing for either bail reduction or a no bail supervised release. After a prosecutor requested a no contact order with Hammer’s wife of 25 years, Ashbaugh did not object, according to the lawsuit.

Ashbaugh also failed to inform the court of Hammer’s mental illness, his physical ailments, and that Hammer had no criminal history. She did not present any mitigating evidence or information to the court, the lawsuit says.

On Nov. 9, 2017, prosecutors filed an amended complaint. Crawford, who was now representing Hammer, made no objection to the amended complaint and did not attempt to get his client released from jail, according to the suit.

From Nov. 9, 2017 onward, no one from the public defender’s office went to the county jail to see Hammer.

On Nov. 27, 2017, suffering from cellulitis in his leg (a painful and life threatening skin infection that can make it difficult to walk), Hammer died from a blood clot that dislodged from beneath the infection.

“At all times herein, Ronald Crawford and all SLO County Defender attorneys did not request any additional discovery, medical records, or conduct any investigation,” according to the lawsuit. “Instead they did nothing, leaving Russell Hammer to languish in the SLO Jail which they knew or should have known is fundamentally unsafe for an elderly, mentally ill, and physically ill person.”

Ashbaugh did not return requests for comment.

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Not to be devil’s advocate here but, who except his victim/wife concluded that he had mental issues? Isn’t it pretty common for lifetime victims of spousal abuse to concoct ideas to have their man released or not even arrested (as she did)?

I think there may be more to the story than he was just mentally and physically in no shape to be jailed.

The issue is if you have a psychotic break, as when given the wrong meds or with dementia you can, you are supposed to be placed in a hospital not a jail. The public defenders have done little more than negotiate sentences. They are responsible as any attorney for a level of care. They have failed for years.

Yep, blame everyone but the person. Where was the family support when the issues arose. Like the last case, get a restraining order and keep him away. Now, they not their lottery!

Mr. Hammer is a sad casualty of a dysfunctional criminal justice system, an inadequate county jail and lack of mental health services. Do public defenders go to county jail to meet with their clients or just grab five minutes with them before they appear in court? Sad but true, we all know it takes money to buy quality legal representation and those without the financial resources, fall prey to the public defenders. Sit in a criminal courtroom for one day and watch public defenders; they have more cases than they can possibly handle thus their clients are thrown under the bus.

Mr.Hammer was a casualty of a corrupt county full of slackers who are more interested in their next face lift, boob job, Botox injection or hair doo or whatever so they can look “like totally bitchen mon”. . There is a reason its called “SLO” county ya know. 

Everyone should be represented within our Judicial system in some manner whether there assumed to be guilty or not guilty. It appears that these Public Defenders saw this case as nothing and just moved it on thru the system. If defended properly they should have addressed the court and requested that additional mental and/or physical care should have been provided. Granted these are difficult situations but to just ignore them is not acceptable. Since court proceedings are either recorded or scripted it should be an easy case to figure out. And as usual we the taxpayer will pay for it.

There needs to be a better way to handle mentally ill people when they go to jail.

No win situation if he was released he may have went home and finished what he had started and then other family members could have sued because he was released.It all falls back on the inept mental health dept.