Friday, Sep 16, 2016
Christa Bigue
  • San Mateo County’s Private Defender Program — a unique arrangement in which the County contracts with private attorneys through the Bar Association to provide indigent defense — is in compliance with state and national standards, but has failed to provide reliable information on costs and cases necessary to effectively oversee and evaluate it as a service provider, according to an evaluation coming before the Board of Supervisors.

    At its Sept. 20, 2016, meeting, the Board will accept reports from the County Manager and Controller on the PDP and consider recommendations for the next six months aimed at improving the County’s oversight of the contract with the San Mateo County Bar Association (SMCBA).

    The recommendations include:

    ·         Address the Controller’s findings of poor internal controls, lack of documented financial policies and procedures and non-compliance with fee schedules that led to incorrect payments;

    ·         Add a termination clause in the existing agreement requiring both the County and SMCBA to give at least 12 months’ notice. The current agreement ends June 30, 2017 and does not include language giving sufficient transition time if the contract is not extended;

    ·         Create a PDP Oversight Committee that meets quarterly to set priorities, monitor goals and select the Chief Defender;

    ·         Develop a PDP Performance Report to prioritize goals and monitor results;

    ·         Make the list of PDP attorneys and application process available to the public and include client feedback in attorney evaluations;

    ·         Develop an independent process for client issues with their assigned PDP attorney;

    ·         Leave administrative staffing as is and place a 10 percent expenditure limit on future contracts;

    ·         Maintain the roles of the Chief Defender, Assistant Defender and Managing Attorneys.

    The County Manager’s Office commissioned an independent evaluation of the PDP in 2015 in advance of the current contract’s upcoming expiration. Deputy County Manager Reyna Farrales who oversaw the effort, said the intention was to determine if the PDP remains the best model for indigent defense and explore potential efficiencies in costs and operations.

    “The feedback we received from attorneys, clients and others familiar with the PDP has been positive overall which is meaningful because we want all of our residents to have access to the best defense they can under the law,” Farrales said. “However, our reviews did identify areas of improvement to strengthen the program, including financial management, client experience and County oversight of the contract.”

    The 2015 evaluation conducted by retired Judge Zerne Haning and former County Counsel Thomas Casey found that the PDP is in compliance with the American Bar Association and State Bar of California’s standards but more County oversight is necessary. The report recommended changes to address conflicts of interest among executive staff and PDP panel attorneys serving on the SMCBA Board of Directors, open up the PDP panel to all qualified members of the SMCBA, address growth in administrative staffing, eliminate the use of PDP attorneys in receiving client complaints.

    In response, on April 27, the SMCBA Board of Directors separated the position of Chief Defender from the Executive Director position of the SMCBA and established Standing Rules to prevent PDP panel attorneys on the SMCBA Board from voting on any matter related to the program.

    While the Haning/Casey evaluation focused on operations, the Controller’s Office conducted a financial review of the PDP. The Controller concluded that the monies paid by the County to the SMCBA were spent on providing indigent defense services, but it can’t yet evaluate the SMCBA as a service provider because of untimely and incomplete independent audit reports, inaccurate and deficient reporting to the County, inadequate monitoring and analyses of case and cost data and poor internal controls and invoice procedures.

    A follow-up audit will be conducted after March 31, 2017.

    The Board of Supervisors will accept the reports and discuss the recommendations at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, in Board Chambers, 400 County Center, Redwood City. The Board agenda and packet, including the complete PDP evaluation, are available at