Fresno County Public Defender Cuts

August 25, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Fresno County's public defenders department will now have fewer positions because of budget cuts. Tuesday morning, the board of supervisors cut about $2-million from their budget and eliminated 24 positions. Public Defender Kathy Marousek said, "We are working at a critical level at this point in time." Marousek said cutting her department will only increase the burden on taxpayers. The county is legally obligated to pay for the criminal defense of those who can't afford to hire an attorney. Eliminate public defenders, Marousek said, and the county will be forced to pay more expensive private attorneys. Marousek said, "The citizens of this county who can't afford an attorney deserve competent legal advice."

The attorneys offered no solutions on Tuesday to bridge a $2 million budget deficit. County staff recommended eliminating 24 positions, but only 13 of those are currently occupied. Supervisor Debbie Poochigian supported the reduction. She said, "We have a budget figure. We can't go back to our other departments and offer them more. We don't have the money."

Supervisors Henry Perea and Susan Anderson both agreed- keeping the status quo could actually save money. Anderson said, "We're cutting the public defender's office too deep. We know they are going to have to stop representing certain number of people, and those people are going to be represented by contract attorneys. That cost is going to increase, but that increase is not in the budget."

In the end, the board voted 3-2 to adopt the recommendations and cut the office. The chief public defender hopes to find new sources of money to avoid some layoffs. But if he doesn't, the last day for 13 employees will be September 7.

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