Budget Cuts Crumble Fresno Public Defenders Office

FRESNO, Calif. The chief public defender is not only facing a $300-thousand dollar deficit. This year- he has also lost nearly a dozen attorneys. Supervisors are expressing anger over how he's handled his department.

Public Defender Deborah Girard told the board of supervisors ... many criminal cases are going nowhere.

"I have clients sitting in Fresno County Jail for an additional 6 - 8 weeks .. 6 - 8 weeks on cases that the investigation is just not getting done," said Girard.

One of Girard's delayed cases involves Hernesto Escalante. The man is in jail accused of hitting a car and killing four people in Fresno County and then driving away.

Girard is so busy- she can't send the case to trial. Chief Public Defender Ken Taniguchi says the backlog is the result of the loss of nearly a dozen attorneys this past year, because of budget cuts. Presiding Judge Bruce Smith also addressed supervisors saying the loss of public defenders will cost the county in the long run.

Judge Smith said, "The jail population which has been going down over the last few years could very well increase and force the sheriff to reopen floors previously lost due to the financial crisis."

Supervisor Judith Case directed blame at the chief public defender saying he did a poor job at managing his budget and staff.

"I think most telling is our own employees voting a lack of confidence in their management staff so I think we have a management problem," said Case.

Taniguchi said, "We have had a steady increase in our revenue stream above our projections for what we put in our budget."

Taniguchi told Action News off camera- he could be fired for how he handled the budget deficit- but he says he's done everything to keep attorneys.

At least two public defenders could lose their jobs by the end of December, because the board of supervisors took no action to stop the impending layoffs which means more delays are anticipated at the court house.

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