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Defense for Indigents

January 05, 1986

In 1984, the County Board of Supervisors approved bidding procedures that, if used in the future, will virtually guarantee that the county will contract only with competent lawyers to provide representation to indigent persons charged with crimes. It would be unlikely that the criticisms contained in your story "Contract System May Put Lawyers at Odds With Clients," (Dec. 8) would occur if the board continues to use the two-step bidding process begun then.

At the direction of the supervisors, a panel of experts, not county employees, evaluated the qualifications of all attorneys making bids on contracts for the fiscal years of 1984 through 1987.

The only attorneys allowed to make bids were those determined by the panel as "qualified bidders."

As a result of this procedure, taxpayers paid less in 1984-85 for the representation of indigent defendants than they did in 1978-79. The costs to represent indigent defendants nearly tripled in other cases in which different procedures were used.

The 1984-85 contract to represent indigent defendants in downtown San Diego charged with petty crimes provided that all private attorneys employed under the contract would be paid an incentive premium to furnish defendants jury trials. The contract further provided that Defender's Inc., a nonprofit organization, would furnish a minimum of three attorneys to conduct jury trials. Qualified volunteer attorneys, at no cost, also tried jury trials under this contract.

None of these attorneys had any financial reason to deprive a defendant of a jury trial in any case or to force any client to plead guilty to anything.

The Board of Supervisors, by its action, planted seeds that, if properly nourished, should in the future provide competent representation in all areas of indigent defense at drastically reduced county costs.

THOMAS L. SAUER

San Diego

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