CRIMINAL DEFENSE INVESTIGATIONS

 

NOTE: In July 2011 the Lassen County Grand Jury concluded its investigation of the mismanagement of the Office of the Public Defender. They reported that the people of Lassen County are not adequately served. This is a serious charge given the more than 1100 clients who annually engage the services of the Public Defender.

The investigation of the Public Defender has also day lighted his very chummy relationship with the District Attorney which may have further compromised some clients legal defense. It appears that the Office of the Public Defender often sought out the DA for his prior approval of the defense findings.

The Public Defender has left the state and also has left many questions unanswered regarding the real impacts on the Office's indigent clients. So far, the County Board of Supervisors appears unwilling to review the several thousand cases handled by former Public Defender Marcus and his staff.

Lady Justice is said to wear a blindfold. This blindfold represents objectivity, in that justice is or should be administered objectively, without fear or favor, regardless of identity and of course, being indigent. In Lassen County, Lady justice has often been without that blindfold. Below is the rest of the story.

Private investigator challenges public defender's report to Supes
Sam Williams, Lassen County Times Sept. 27, 2011

ALSO READ UPDATE "CLICK"

Susanville private investigator Ron Wood alleged Public Defender David Marcus' Tuesday, Aug. 16 report to the Lassen County Board of Supervisors "was a gross misrepresentation" of the contract between a Reno, Nevada private investigator and the public defender's office. He also alleged the county has not followed its own policies and procedures for executing contracts. In addition, he questioned the appropriateness of district attorney's involvement in the public defender's choice of private investigators.

"The public defender seems to have lost sight of the fact that his office's primary responsibility is to assist public clients and not facilitate the district attorney's prosecutions,"

Wood wrote in a report he made to the board. "Why should the district attorney be consulted concerning the hiring of the public defender's investigators? The truth is a less than rigorous public defense investigator benefits the district attorney but doesn't always serve the public or justice. The independence of the public defender's office begins with a formal advertised bidding process for his private investigator contract. It does not begin in the DA's office as suggested by (the) former public defender."

Photo: Ronald Wood presents information to the Lassen County Board of Supervisors regarding a contract between a Reno, Nev. private investigator and the Lassen County Public Defender's Office. Photo by Sam Williams

At Tuesday's Sept. 13 board meeting, Wood said Marcus told the board on Aug. 16 that Gina Crown, the Nevada contract, was paid $10,790 for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, but according to a "vendor expenditure inquiry" from Lassen County he presented to the board, Crown was paid $17,524.42 between July I, 2010 and June 30, 2011.

"Since June 24, 2010, to Sept. I, 2011, Gina Crown has been paid $24,000 - $24,000 that came out of the public safety fund - just so we know where that came from," Wood said. "The point I'm making today is that contract is a runaway contract. That contract should have gone out to bid when it passed $10,000 according to the county's policy on purchasing."

Wood also criticized the board for approving another $12,000 extension for that contact Aug. 16. Wood said there are other reasons to keep the public defender's private investigator contract in Lassen County. In addition to the county's policies and procedures that provide for a 5 percent preference to local companies contracting with the county, unemployment in Lassen County is 13.6 percent and this money could and should stay local. Wood also complained about the relationship between the public defender's office and the district attorney's office.

According to Wood, the former public defender also misrepresented the matter by suggesting there were only two private investigators in Lassen County. "There are five investigators in Lassen County," Wood said. "It was reported there were only two, and that's because the public defender had to do an emergency process to get this company out of Reno, Nevada There are five of us, so that was a misrepresentation also." Wood asked the board to rescind the contract with Crown, initiate an open bid process and then bring the local public safety dollars back to Lassen County where they belong.

UPDATE
Lassen Co. Public Defender’s Office out-of-state Contract with Gina Crown reported to Board of Supervisors
Ronald L. Wood, 19 February 2013

Re: Lassen County Purchasing Policy

The Lassen County Public Defender’s Office is mandated by the State of California with providing legal defense free of charge to individuals residing in Lassen County who are charged with criminal offenses and who are not capable of paying for their own legal defense.

In August 2011, this matter of contracting with an out-of-state firm was in front of
the Board of Supervisors.  It was presumed the issue was on track of being resolved by the newly appointed public defender Mrs. Giannotti. During several Board discussions, she informed the Board that she was going to make an effort to hire locals and bring our tax dollars back to Lassen County, California.  The latest contract, proves otherwise.  The Public Defender’s Office record shows the office is funding outside sources.

On 27 August 2012, the public defender signed another contract for the Fiscal Year 2012-2013 with the out-of-state firm, Gina Crown and Associates, based out of Reno, Nevada, for the amount of $9,000. 

The Public Defender’s Office out-of-state contract is paid at a rate of Thirty Dollars ($30.00) per hour for travel time and Fifty-Five Dollars ($55) per hour for investigations, and mileage reimbursement of $.51 per mile.

How do we stop sending our tax dollars to Reno, Nevada?

Recommendations:

1.  The Lassen County Board of Supervisors instructs the Public Defender’s Office to cancel the current contract with the out-of-state company and bring our tax dollars back to Lassen County.

2.  The County purchasing policy page 2, paragraph 7 should be revised, by restricting the authorization of the County Administrator Officer/County Counsel by the removal of the clause (Resolution 07-031) that allows him/her to execute contracts and invoices in the amount not to exceed $10,000.00 per year.

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