Local Private Investigators vs Public Defender
Ronald L. Wood, Lassen County Times, Letter to the Editor, August 30, 2011
Tuesday, County Board of Supervisors finally began to look for answers regarding the Public Defender and its failure to use local private investigators. One of his objections from hiring local PI’s has come from his resentment to the investigation over the lack of an open public bidding process. However, the Public Defender seemed to have lost sight of the fact that his office, primary responsibility is to assist public clients and not facilitate the District Attorney’s prosecutions.
The Public Defender’s condescending remarks directed at local private investigators are without foundation and reflect his less than independent relationship with the District Attorney. Why should the District Attorney be consulted concerning the hiring of the Public Defender’s investigators? The truth is that a less than rigorous public defense investigator benefits the District Attorney but doesn't always serve the public or justice.
The job of a defense investigator is to scrutinize the District Attorney’s Discovery and to find any weakness or errors in law enforcement reports, but most importantly, to uncover and provide exculpatory facts that may vindicate the accused. I know because this is what I do. I have worked for Defense Attorneys in Lassen County and throughout the State. We had prevailed over the District Attorney’s Office in many a criminal matter. The completeness of my work product has aided in the success those cases. Though the District Attorney hasn’t appreciated my defense investigations there are some in the public who were surly glad I was involved.
The independence of the Public Defender begins with an open bid process for the Defender’s private investigator contract as required by law. It does not begin in the DA’s office as suggested by former Public Defender Marcus. My public records request has helped to daylight and fuel this ongoing discussion.
First source hiring should be the standard in Lassen County. It makes good economic sense. The current Public Defenders office investigator’s contract is paid to an out of state firm who is being paid for travel time at 50 cents per mile in addition to $60 hourly wage. The rate of pay for private investigators in Lassen County has been set by the courts and not by the public defender’s office. Our local rate of pay is $45 per hour and not $60. Currently, the contract for the out of state investigative services is being paid out of the Public Safety Fund. This is same fund that provides financial support to our local law enforcement agencies etc.
It is time to set this process right. If the county seeks a private contract for more than $10,000 for a service like a road repair, then there is an open public bid process. Yet, now the supervisors want to extend this current investigators contract to the same out of state contractor for another year, and this time for $12,000 or more. This contract should be awarded in a public process and not over shadow by the prejudice of either the Public Defender or the District Attorney.
NOTE: THE SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA IN AND FOR THE COUNTY OF LASSEN
GENERAL ORDER. 2006-01: FEES FOR COURT APPOINTED INDIGENT DEFENSE INVESTIGATORS
It is hereby ordered that effective for work performed from February 1, 2006, investigative services for indigent defense rendered pursuant to court authorization by the Superior Court of California, County of Lassen, shall be compensated at the rate of Forty-Five Dollars ($45.00) per hour. Persons accepting assignments under this fee order shall do so with the clear understanding that the court will make an independent determination of the justification and necessity for the hours spent, and may reduce a claim for hours found not to be reasonably necessary for the purpose of the assignment. Indigent defense investigators shall submit a fee claim on a form provided for that purpose by the Court of Lassen, with the attorney retaining the services attesting to the validity of the claim, and with all information requested thereon, only upon completion of the investigation, unless prior court authorization for an incremental billing is obtained by the attorney on behalf of the investigator for good cause. Dated 1/24/06 Srephen D. Bradbury, Presiding Judge