CRIMINAL DEFENSE INVESTIGATIONS

 

Board wants DA to explain why local private investigators should not work for public defender
Sam Williams, Lassen County Times August 23, 2011

Lassen County's Board of Supervisors unanimously approved on Tuesday, Aug. 16, a short-term contract with a Reno, Nev. private investigation firm that provides services to the Lassen County public defenders office. But as soon as possible within the next 30 days the board wants to review the standing of' all private investigators within the county in an attempt to discover why Bob Burns, the Lassen County District Attorney, reportedly has issues with the credibility of the local private investigators.

"If there are vendors who are out of sorts with the district attorney's office, we need to sort that out," said Jim Chapman, District 2 supervisor and board chair.

Lassen County Public Defender David Marcus asked the board to approve a contract with Gina Crown and Associates for investigative services through June 30, 2012. Marcus said the office used the firm last year, and paid a total of $10,790.47 to the firm. This year's contract is not expected to exceed $12,000. Marcus said the firm has reduced its investigative fee from $60 to $55 per hour and travel time costs from $60 to $30 per hour. He said either party could terminate the contract with 30 days notice. He said the firm had been working on on-going cases under limited authority from the public defender's office and from acting County Administrative Officer Rick Crabtree.

The board balked almost immediately and expressed concerns about why a local private investigator could not be found. "Do we have anybody in the local area who could do this kind of service?" District 2 Supervisor and Chair Jim Chapman asked. "There are two investigators in Susanville," Marcus said, "I discussed both of those investigators. (They) contacted me when we had a contract with Mr. Grant that he terminated on one day's notice and we were rushing around trying to find some body to cover that gap.

"I contacted Mr. Burns at the district attorney's office" and said what do you think about these folks as far as their credibility, and I didn't get a positive response." Marcus said he was concerned the public defender's office would pay for an investigation and if the district attorney's office believes that investigation "is not complete, inaccurate or that investigator has no credibility," then the public defender's office has to pay for a second investigation.

"I needed somebody who had credibility, and this is the best rate I could get at that time," Marcus said. District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson pointed out the contract had been signed in June, and he thought it should have moved through the process more quickly. Marcus said he obtained the appropriate signatures on the contract, but it "languished in the CAO's office for a bit" and then came back to him with direction to put it on the board's agenda. By then the board was in the middle of budget issues.

Larry Wosick, district 3 supervisor, asked Marcus if he had flown the contract, and Marcus said he had not. Marcus said he had received letters from the local private investigators and he even responded to a freedom of information ' act request from one of them. It is a sensitive issue because I was contacted by one of the local people," Wosick said, "(and he's) really sour about the money going to Nevada when they could offer the same services here." "I was contacted about the same issue," Marcus said.

"So why is it?" Wosick asked. "We just don't have any, competent people?" "I'm not going to say incompetent," Marcus said. "I'm simply going to say that my conversation with Mr. Burns was that he didn't think those individuals had credibility with his office. I need some body, when I turn over investigations as part of a discovery request, that carries some weight with the district attorney's office." Iona McCain said she believed there are qualified private investigators in Lassen County. Chapman agreed. "I think the issue that Mr. Marcus brings forth is the fact that the district attorney's office apparently has some credibility issues with these or other of the investigators," Chapman said.

"Before we get too far into this, I think it would be to the board's best interest to understand what issue the district attorney has. "My preference is we try to provide these services using our local folks as the prerequisite." Chapman was concerned the board was making a decisions based on the reported feelings of the district attorney without hearing from him directly. "If he's got a valid reason, obviously we have to look at that," Chapman said, "but if he doesn't like the way he combs his hair or does whatever he does, I don't think that necessarily rises to the point where we make our decision ... Those local dollars we spend here, stay here, and that's important to our local economy.

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