NLGSF Urges Against Cuts to SF Public Defender's Office

In a letter faxed to members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee the NLGSF urged supervisors "to preserve the right to indigent defense by refusing to cut the Public Defender's Office budget in the 2009-2010 fiscal year."

The Public Defender's Office is critical to ensuring everyone is treated fairly in the criminal justice system. It is an institution central to the ideals we hold dear as legal professionals who care deeply about human rights. Indeed, the Public Defenders office is already sorely underfunded. Public defenders earn less than private attorneys and are not paid by the hour. Most public defenders work between 50 and 70 hours per week and, unlike police or firefighters, do not receive overtime.

An adequate defense is an important check on the power of police and prosecutors and helps ensure that those departments stay within proper bounds – avoiding criminal appeals and civil suits. Furthermore, an adequately funded public defender office saves taxpayer money by ensuring that costly delays and increased incarceration costs that occur when public defenders are overworked are avoided. The Public Defender's Office is the most cost-efficient way to provide constitutionally mandated legal representation to 28,000 people each year.

As an organization based in San Francisco, with hundreds of members – lawyers, legal workers, and law students – throughout the Bay Area, we ask you for the following:

  • Exempt the Public Defender's Office from budget cuts in FY 2009-2010;
  • Maintain programs that help people remain arrest free – such as the Public Defender's Office expungement and prisoner reentry programs; and
  • Fund afterschool and youth programs that provide positive alternatives to crime and gang involvement.

San Francisco cannot afford to place equal access to justice on the financial chopping block. I ask that you show your commitment to upholding our constitutional right to counsel by refusing to impose any cuts to the Public Defender's Office budget.

How you can help:

1- WRITE OR CALL the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee. A sample letter is available at www.sfpublicdefender.org under "Budget Alert!"

2 - TESTIFY at the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee hearing, Thursday, June 18, 2009, City Hall, Room 250, at noon.

3- RALLY in support of public defense and budget justice on Thursday, June 18, 2009, 10 a.m., at City Hall on the Goodlett steps (Polk Street side).