Public Defender

LA County May Soon Create a Civil Justice Defense Program to Address the Collateral Consequences of Incarceration

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

Public defender offices in jurisdictions elsewhere in the nation offer representation for indigent criminal justice system-involved people over additional legal issues like immigration, family court, worker’s rights, tenant rights, and more.

Los Angeles County may soon add its name to the list of counties offering comprehensive civil defense services to low-income residents.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a motion to study the feasibility of creating a Civil Defense Unit to be operated by the LA County Office of the Public Defender in partnership with community-based organizations that will “provide legal representation and advocacy” to the county’s residents.

The motion, authored by Supervisor Hilda Solis and seconded by Supervisor Kathryn Barger, calls on the county CEO Sachi Hamai, Public Defender Ricardo Garcia, Joseph Nicchitta, Director of the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, and other relevant county department leaders to return to the board in 120 days with recommendations for the unit’s design, implementation, and funding.

Civil defense programs elsewhere in the U.S. “have demonstrated their effectiveness in promoting public safety, maintaining stability in the home and in communities, preventing homelessness, and much more,” said Supervisor Solis.

The county, in partnership with the city and local philanthropy and legal aid organizations, is currently piloting the LA Justice Fund, which provides legal assistance to immigrants facing deportation. While the project may soon expand to include support for tenants in need of legal help, there are many other areas in which people coming into contact with the public defender’s office could benefit from representation. Supervisor Solis believes that help should come from a cohesive civil defense unit.

Speaking before the board on Tuesday, LA County Public Defender Ricardo Garcia praised the plan.

Providing “representation for my clients within the civil justice system is so critical and forward-thinking,” Garcia said.

After law enforcement, public defenders are the first to have guaranteed access to an individual after an arrest — usually within 72 hours of that arrest. “No other community organization or government department has this sort of timely access with the incarcerated population,” the motion stated. “No other entity can ascertain the civil justice needs of the justice-involved, while simultaneously protecting” individuals’ constitutional rights to privacy.

“We are in a unique situation as public defenders to address these fundamental collateral consequences” that result from involvement with the criminal justice system, Garcia told the supervisors. “When we talk about holistic representation, we often think about” ways to address defendants’ rehabilitative needs and mental health while providing legal representation in criminal cases, Garcia said. However, what rarely enters the conversation about holistic representation, according to the public defender, is how to mitigate the collateral consequences triggered by an arrest — consequences that reduce defendants’ likelihood of successful reentry and create hardship and instability for the loved ones they leave behind.

Indigent defendants and their families in LA County often face housing instability and eviction after an arrest, lost employment, an abrupt end to benefits for their families, and more.

One example of a post-arrest collateral consequence, Garcia said, was the impounding of a family car. Defendants seek help from the public defender’s office to get their vehicle out of impound and back to their family members, who often need the car to get to work. In one case, by the time Garcia’s office could connect the client with an outside service to get his car turned over to a loved one, the impound cost had reached $3,000 — a fee so enormous that the man’s family was forced to give up their vehicle forever. “If we could have done the same thing within the first 24 to 48 hours” of the client being incarcerated, Garcia said, “that family would have the car” and a means of transportation to work.

Veterans, too, frequently request additional assistance from their appointed defenders — help that the PD’s office can’t give. “I can’t tell you how many times the veterans come in with fear and concern” that they and their families are going to lose their benefits, and thus, their homes. By the time Garcia’s office can get them help to transfer their benefits to another family member, “one, two, three paychecks have passed,” said Garcia. “The rent’s overdue. There’s not much food in the house.”

These all-too-common stories and situations affecting public defender clients and their families reveal a great need for better and quicker access to civil legal resources, according to Garcia.

By creating a robust public-private partnership to provide much-needed civil defense services to low-income LA County residents, county leaders hope to reduce income-based disparities, and build resilient communities.

“Section 6, paragraph 23 of the County Charter provides authority for the County’s Public Defender to ‘defend such persons in all civil litigation in which, in his judgment, they are being persecuted or unjustly harassed,’ Solis wrote in her motion. “Until such time as the rampant disparity in access to civil justice, based on economic means, is obliterated, the Public Defender’s civil representation of the indigent population is indeed the representation of the unjustly harassed.”

“I look forward to the results of this study and the creation of this new unit which has the potential to lift up our residents, whole families, and diverse communities throughout the First District and Los Angeles County,” Solis said.

18 Comments

  • I’m waiting for the BOS to have such a program for the VICTIMS of these downtrodden ” indigent criminal justice system-involved people.” Seems to me that they may need a little TLC, but then again the left doesn’t give a damn about them because they are usually the folks who work for a living, pay taxes and have something to steal.

  • pathetic…see those responses up there? these are the cops that have the power to take someones freedom. when is someone going to question the mentality and not just indirect intention’s to land a fuckn job! fuckn pigs make me suck…

  • I’m just curious how comments such as, ” fuckn pigs make me suck…” make it though your vetting. You don’t need to post this question; it’s just a request for a bit of introspection. It’s clear this is a SJW blog, but is the hatred for the police really this prevalent?

    • Three levels of English usage:

      1. VULGAR: this is soldier talk found on the battlefield; inside a military barracks; or amongst an inmate population inside the walls of a penal institution.

      2. VERNACULAR: Everyday conversation.

      3. FORMAL: talk among academics at cock-tail parties.

      The topic will usually determine English usage level. In this case, usage level is appropriate to the topic at hand.

      Nothing at all wrong with using a vulgar level.

      However, I do fault punctuation use & word choice. The passage you chose for criticism “fuckn pigs make me suck” should more appropriately read “fuck’n’ pigs make me sick” where the apostrophe indicates the omitted letters “i” and “g”.

      Most dictionaries will have a section on punctuation usage out back somewhere, and this section should be consulted before the “send” button is pushed.

      Once all of that is done we may find that this particular writer has something worthwhile to say.

  • Editor’s Note:

    Spook, I’m officially done with your outpouring of bile. It’s unremitting, invariable, and doesn’t belong here.

    Enough.

    C.

    PS: Jim, I love it! Have a great time! I saw the Rolling Stones at the Rose Bowl last month and it was bliss.

  • And yet, the comment remains. Really, Celeste? Just a stern warning with no follow through?

    I’ve also seen racist comments remain on WLA posts, but then realized they were actually OK in Celeste’s world because they were directed at white people.

  • 25Cents, the County does have such a program(s). First, such a program applies to them. If someone is a victim, the police will be there (right?), they will get a DA assigned to their case (on the public dime), they are eligible for any emergency services the county provides, they can receive compensation from both the County and State to pay for crime related services (med, relocation, etc).

    And, please get the facts straight. You claim the left wants to take from the rich and give to the poor. You rail against any such program, such as Medi-Cal, CalWorks, food stamps, etc. Yet, the overwhelming number of victims of violent crimes are either poor or lower income, overwhelmingly. Many of those same victims end up in your grips and may go through through the criminal justice system at some point. Don’t be a hypocrite.

    I just wish the county fund would also cover suits against police officers who have abused their authority. I’m kidding, that will never happen. One can dream.

    • You talk out both sides of your mouth, such a two-faced hypocrite. How do those poor, indigent victims of crime become “actual victims” and avail themselves of the services of the DA’s office? Do the “porcine” pigs actually respond to their calls and needs for protection. Do those dishonest cops actually do their jobs well and investigate, arrest and take “criminals” or alleged criminals to jail? Do these same cops who fabricate and lie go to these extremes to help the poor victims who they clearly they care so little about? How does anyone get arrested, go to jail and stand before the courts since the cops are so bad at their job as you say?

      This can not happen! Clearly all cops are bad, corrupt, abuse their power and the like as you and your alter-ego/fan boy like to say.

  • @cf, I guess you have not seen very many victims of crimes. Often they are devastated by what has occurred – weather it is a robbery where some thug shoves a gun in their face, or a rape, an assault, or even a burglary where the sanctity of someone’s home has been invaded and they no longer feel safe in their own home. And I’m not talking about just the direct victims, there are family members who have had their loved ones killed or seriously hurt by crime. These crimes devastate family members as well because one crime can impact the lives of so many people, far beyond the single victim and can have a lasting impact in all of their lives.

    You are finally right about something though; many, many of these victims are indeed poor. That doesn’t mean they can’t and don’t have the same reaction to being a victim of a crime and have the same need for support. No one suggested that such a need extended only to the non-poor.

    If you think the cops or the District Attorney’s Office give much “support” to victims of crimes, then you are mistaken. They may have a pamphlet or two but they don’t have support arms like is being proposed by the BOS (btw, have you ever seen how the Public Defender’s Office shuffles defendants through their “system”, I can hardly wait to see how this would all shake out!).

    My point is that the BOS is very monocular in their approach to “criminal justice system-involved people” and a more balanced approach would have been to include such an outreach program for the victims starting with the first contact point, the police officer taking the initial report.

    I never mentioned Food Stamps et al. As usual you went off half-cocked.

    • Re: The B.O.S
      Why do you crybabies whine about the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors but yet you never question ALADS vetting process.

      Several years back when deciding to back Alan Jackson or Jackie Lacy for District Attorney, ALADS caved in and passed on Jackson who definitely wouldn’t show any mercy in the prosecution arena. Too late now.

      Due to their size along with their reputation which is slowly diminishing, ALADS is the most generous when their backing is sought.

      I guarantee you that if you ever attend their Q&A session before vetting these folks, you would laugh your ass off.

      ALADS has backed EVERY Supervisor on that Board. Needless to say they threw in a hefty $1.5 Million for Sheriff Villanueva. Let’s say how they do on the next go-round.

  • This Dystopian land called California is reminiscent of society in the time of the French Revolution. When you have a government so out of touch with the masses, ruled by a pseudo-elitist cabal and only concerned with the needs of a select group, your bound to have pushback and revolution. Everything under the present state government has been in an effort, it seems, to cater to the poor, criminal element, homeless and illegal immigrant population. What have the states so called leaders done that benefits the law-abiding, rule following, tax-paying citizens? All I can think of is increasing their taxes and figuring out new and creative ways to extract their hard earned money out of their pockets in the form of new taxes? The states so called leaders have done bsolutely nothing to benefit the average middle class worker in this state.

    Hopefully people are waking up and realising the state political system in broken and vote for change during the next election.

    • Don’t leave out the centerpiece in the state of California, Los Angeles. You fail to mention the leaders of law enforcement in los Angeles County, LASD & LAPD.
      The people have voted and made their choice along with the enablers of the B.O.S.
      Do you really think the next election will change anything current?

  • ” indigent criminal justice system-involved people”—-um, that would be “defendants.” Which, ironically, is what the article starts referring to them as in later paragraphs (“defendants”, “indigent defendants”). As pointed out above, the BOS and the others couldn’t care less about victims, who are also certainly “justice involved.”

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