Public Defender Budget Cuts Could Cost SF More

Pesky bill of rights means any laid off lawyers would be replaced by pricier private counsel

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi's office is fighting back against budget cuts proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, and Adachi has something of an ace in the hole -- the constitution.

The sixth amendment requires that defendants be provided with legal counsel regardless of their means to pay. Any work that the team of lawyers at the public defender's office can't take gets contracted to private attorneys.

And private attorneys cost significantly more per hour than their publicly-funded counterparts.

Meanwhile, the mayor's office not only approved a $1.7 million budget increase for the department before the budget cut demand, but promised additional staff to help with Newsom's newly-opened Community Justice Center.

While, of course, one should never assume malice when incompetence is just as likely, it would certainly be one way to get yet more public money into the hands of private businesses, a trend in recent years.

On the other hand, criminal defendants aren't exactly the kind of pet constituency that representatives on the Board of Supervisors go out of their way to please, so there's little political will on that front.

Either way, the inevitable increased costs will be passed along to other public programs or taxpayers as the expense snowballs into the rest of the budget deficit.

Promises made by the Bill of Rights are budget items that can be well or poorly managed, but thankfully they can't not vetoed. Though Lord knows people keep trying. Photo by Aaron Anderer.

Jackson West hasn't needed a public defender. Yet.

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