The City's public defender costs soar 

Farming out court cases instead of having the Public Defender’s Office handle them has cost The City an additional $2 million, according to records.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s office outsourced more than 1,000 cases in 2009 due to “unavailability,” according to city records.

The expenses are in addition to more than $7 million already budgeted for anticipated outsourced cases, which happens if the Public Defender’s Office has a conflict of interest or is not available to represent the clients, according to the mayor’s budget office.

But because of the outsourcing, last week Mayor Gavin Newsom introduced a budget supplementation of $2.2 million to retroactively repay the courts that were forced to hire outside attorneys to take outsourced cases from the Public Defender’s Office in the past year.

Since 2005, Adachi has lamented budget cuts in the face of shrinking staff, saying he couldn’t handle the caseload.

But city records show that his caseload has dropped since 2001 and the number of full-time equivalency positions in the Public Defender’s Office has increased by 18 percent.

“For a guy who’s running around town campaigning on the need to cut health and retirement benefits to curb government spending, he need only look in the mirror to see a good example of the problem,” said Tony Winnicker, Newsom’s spokesman.

However, Adachi said full-time equivalent positions don’t always translate into attorney positions. Currently, his office has 90 working attorneys, which he said is nine short of what he needs to carry the caseload.

In August, the Board of Supervisors signed off on an increased budget for the Public Defender’s Office, which will allow Adachi to hire more attorneys, he said. His budget is increasing from $23 million last year to $25 million this fiscal year, according to the Mayor’s Office.

Adachi said The City is having to shell out more money to repay the courts only after cutting funding from the Public Defender’s Office.

“Our attorneys on the average work 50 to 60 hours a week with no overtime,” Adachi said. “So for that reason, it’s more expensive because private attorneys are paid by the hour.”

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

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