Untold numbers of impoverished defendants were left with no agency designated to represent them after the Board of Supervisors rejected a contract proposal Tuesday from a unit of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.
Until the dispute is resolved, individual judges will appoint attorneys to represent--at no charge--defendants for whom the public defender's and alternate public defender's offices have conflicts of interest.
Meanwhile, the county will continue contract negotiations with the Indigent Criminal Defense Assn. The association provides lawyers for poor defendants who face trial, for example, with co-defendants who are represented by the public defender's office and the alternate public defender's office.
The association had sought raises for its 160 members, who have not had pay increases in six years. The contract expired Saturday.
Representatives from the association and the county could not even agree Tuesday on whether the attorneys group had submitted a formal bid for the new contract.
The board ordered negotiations to continue for a week, and asked county staff to explore whether there were other ways to distribute the legal work.
"I hope it doesn't impact the administration of justice for poor people in this county," said county bar President-Elect Patty Schnegg.
Supervisor Gloria Molina said that she did not believe defendants' rights were at risk.
"I think there's enough people out there that we can get a better option without jeopardizing indigents," she said.
But John Reid, presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, said time is short. "This can be resolved as long as everybody realizes we have a very short time to resolve it."