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LA County Supervisors to Look at Juvenile Court-Appointed Attorneys’ Pay…the Horrors of Asset Forfeiture…and More

August 6th, 2013 by Taylor Walker


LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas plans to introduce a motion, possibly on Tuesday, to look into alternatives to the current fee system for contracted panel attorneys assigned to indigent juvenile defendants.

As we reported last week, a study by Loyola Law School Professor Cyn Yamashiro found that these private attorneys (who are assigned cases that the Public Defender’s Office cannot take due to a conflict of interest) are drastically underpaid by the county, are less active in court, and submit significantly fewer motions than public defenders.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

Loyola Law Professor Cyn Yamashiro studied 4,000 juvenile court files in L.A. County and determined that, on average, those represented by panel attorneys tend to end up at a higher level of supervision and spend more time in juvenile probation camps than those represented by public defenders.

Yamashiro thinks that might have something to do with the fact that private attorneys are paid a $320-$345 flat fee by the county for each case, regardless of its complexity.

“It’s a single fee that has to pay for all the legal work that’s done on a case,” the professor said. “It has the opposite financial incentive that you would want as a defendant. You’d want the attorney rewarded for doing more work, not penalized.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he plans to introduce a motion on Tuesday instructing the Chief Executive Office to look into the pay system, recommend alternatives and assess any fiscal impact.

Judge Michael Nash, presiding judge of L.A. County’s juvenile courts, said he’s not opposed to increasing the pay of defense attorneys for indigent juveniles.

“I don’t think anyone in their right mind would disagree with that notion,” Nash said.

(We at WLA agree.)


Asset forfeiture, in which law enforcement seizes property that may be associated with a crime, most often a drug crime, is a serious cash cow for law enforcement agencies in many states, including California. In Philadelphia and many other jurisdictions, if a crime was allegedly committed inside a house, even unbeknownst to the homeowner, the residence can be seized through civil law, even if no charges are ever brought against the owner. (For forfeiture laws in California, go here.)

Isaiah Thompson has the story for ProPublica. Here are some clips:

When Rochelle Bing bought her modest row home on a tattered block in North Philadelphia 10 years ago, she saw it as an investment in the future for her extended family — especially for her 18 grandchildren.

Bing, 42, works full-time as a home health assistant for the elderly and disabled. In summer when school is out, her house is awash with grandkids whom Bing tends to while their parents work. And the home has been a haven in troubled times when her children needed help or a father went to jail. One of Bing’s grandchildren lives there now.

“That’s the only reason I bought my home — I needed stability for my children,” Bing said. “And if anything was to happen to me, they would have a home to live in.”

But four years ago, something happened that imperiled Bing’s plans. In October 2009, police raided the house and charged her son, Andrew, then 24, with selling 8 packets of crack cocaine to an undercover informant. (Upon entering the house, police reported finding unused packets, though not drugs, in a rear bedroom.) Rochelle Bing was not present and was not accused of a crime. Yet she soon received a frightening letter from the Philadelphia district attorney’s office. Because Andrew had sold the drugs from inside his mother’s house, a task force of law enforcement officials moved to seize Bing’s house. They filed a court claim, quickly approved, that gave Bing just 30 days to dissuade a judge from granting “a decree of forfeiture” that would give the DA’s office title to the property. Bing was devastated.


On its face, Bing’s predicament might seem implausible if not unjust. How could someone who’s neither accused nor convicted of a crime be forced to give up her property because of another’s misdeeds? But stories like Bing’s are increasingly more common as Philadelphia and other jurisdictions have embraced the expansive power of forfeiture as a crime-fighting tool.

The idea behind forfeiture is simple enough: drug kingpins, embezzlers, racketeers and other offenders should not be able to keep the financial fruits of illegal acts. Prosecutors often ask a judge to seize the money, vehicles or real estate of a person convicted of a crime.

But authorities can also use civil law to seize assets before the criminal case is adjudicated or, as with Rochelle Bing, even when no charges are brought against the owner.


Forfeiture reports obtained from Pennsylvania’s Attorney General give only a general breakdown of how these funds are spent. The records show that the bulk of Philadelphia’s forfeiture money goes to “salaries” (the report does not say whose), and “municipal task force support.” The reports include a line-item for money spent on “Community Based Drug & Crime Fighting Programs” and “Witness Relocation and/or Protection Expenses.” In recent years, both of those items read “$0.00.”

Money from housing sales in 2010 represented about a fifth of all the DA’s $5.9 million in forfeiture income that year. The rest was generated by seizure of cash, cars and other property. Last fall, a story by this reporter in The Philadelphia City Paper disclosed that the DA’s office moves to seize virtually every dollar in cash found by police in stops — even amounts of $100 or less. Under the law, prosecutors need not secure a conviction in the underlying criminal case to keep the cash.

The money raised through forfeiture is handled outside the city’s budgeting and appropriations processes. The law requires only that it be used to enforce Pennsylvania’s drug laws. Critics and experts who study the issue say that gives prosecutors a powerful motive to step up the pace of forfeitures.


LA Times’ Evan Halper and Paige St. John explain the significance Friday’s Supreme Court decision to deny Gov. Jerry Brown’s appeal to block the three-judge panel’s order to release 9,600 inmates by the end of the year. Here’s a clip:

…the Supreme Court was not persuaded. The majority denied Brown’s request for a stay without comment.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a sharply worded dissent, which Justice Clarence Thomas joined. Justice Samuel Alito also dissented, but he did not join Scalia.

Scalia wrote that he does not believe the federal courts have the authority to order California to remove thousands of inmates from its prison system.

“California must now release upon the public nearly 10,000 inmates convicted of serious crimes — about 1,000 for every city larger than Santa Ana,” he wrote. The order, he wrote, goes “beyond the power of the courts.”

Scalia’s description overstated the situation. The state does not yet have to release prisoners, although that could happen by the end of the year. Federal judges have urged California to explore all options.

Although the latest turn in California’s long-running prison saga could lead to large-scale releases, the administration has alternatives.

It could, for example, send inmates to private facilities, most of which are out of state. The administration has contracts in place to enable such a move. But it would be costly to taxpayers and could create political problems with unionized prison guards.

Prison officials, meanwhile, have already started to identify thousands of inmates who are near the end of their terms. They are also looking at some 900 inmates who have serious illnesses and thus are considered less dangerous.

Not surprisingly, the California State Sheriff’s Association Monday stated their disapproval of the decision, and urged Gov. Brown to relocate prisoners to other facilities, rather than release them.

(You can read the official announcement on the CSSA website.)

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, law enforcement, prison, Public Defender | 1 Comment »

One Response

  1. Prophet Mo' Teff Says:

    If Philadelphia benefits from seeking a decree of forfeiture for Rochelle Bing’s North Philadelphia row house, they could do even better by applying asset forfeiture to more valuable properties which have been used in illegal drug transactions without consent of the property owner.

    If a drug dealer meets a buyer at the corner Starbuck’s or Chipotle Grill to consumate the illicit sale, then Philadelphia can earn several times Rochelle Bing’s home by seizing the Starbuck’s franchise.
    What about the big time drug operator who deals out of a suite at Marriot or Hyatt Hotel at the Philadelphia Airport – those properties are worth millions if taken in forfeiture.

    But there is good reason to pursue forfeiture on Rochelle Bing’s home instead of the Marriott. They won’t get the Marriott property because Marriott has the legal resources to defend against and defeat attempts at forfeiture – Rochelle Bing is easy pickings.
    Easy pickings are also found among those who carry cash to pay their rent or the cable bill. They fall below the threshold for checking accounts and credit cards – instead they use check cashing stores and carry cash for vital purchases and payments. They don’t have an extra $500 or $5000 to pay an attorney to help them get their asset returned from seizure.

    We should really stop using the very ambiguous terminology of “The War on Drugs”.

    Let’s be honest and accurate about what we have – “A War on Drugs that is a War on Poor People and People of Color”.

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