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Times Invited to Be Part of Solution

June 27, 1993

* I feel compelled respond to the Times editorial ("No Defense for This," June 19) that criticized the public defender's office for permitting about 100 cases to be diverted to private lawyers because of budget constraints. By labeling this a "gesture," the editorial ignores critical facts and trivializes important legal concepts at issue. While we have clearly communicated departmental budgetary needs to county officials, we also appreciate the difficult task they have in trying to provide government services with limited resources.

On the other hand, this office is handling more cases each year despite cuts in the number of people on staff. The dedicated lawyers in the public defender's office are handling many more cases annually than what is recommended by every standard within the profession. Although we continue to deliver competent representation, there are limits to how many cases each lawyer can handle, and there is no additional capacity for increasing individual workloads. Indeed, attorneys are ethically and legally bound not to accept employment on additional cases if current workloads prevent them from adequately representing additional clients.

During 1992 we accepted about 60,000 cases, but the department now has eight fewer lawyers working than we had then, and unfortunately the caseload continues to grow. While your editorial correctly points out that it is wrong to deny counsel to indigent defendants, it fails to recognize that it would also be wrong to deny competent representation by permitting hard-working lawyers to be overwhelmed by ever-expanding caseloads. That is what we are trying to avoid by not accepting new cases one day per month. (Indeed, in places like Sacramento County, excess caseloads have routinely been handled in this manner, without fanfare.) To be consistent, The Times should support my efforts not to accept more cases than we can competently handle.

I invite The Times to join the Board of Supervisors, county officials and this office in developing effective solutions to the difficult problems we all face in dealing with the current fiscal crisis.

RONALD Y. BUTLER

Public Defender

Santa Ana

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