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At a time when many city departments expect to tighten their fiscal belts a few notches, Public Defender Jeff Adachi proposes expanding his staff by 45 percent over three years. In contrast, the city attorney and district attorney are scrambling to avoid cutting jobs by looking at options such as voluntary furloughs for the coming fiscal year, according to detailed budget proposals submitted by the three offices to the city in February. Adachi’s move to expand his office appears to go against prevailing fiscal currents, given that many city departments have proposed spending cuts in response to instructions from Mayor Willie Brown. But Adachi is hoping that a cost-saving argument, as well as caseload data, will persuade the mayor and Board of Supervisors to see things his way. “What we’ve shown is that by funding the public defender’s office at about $1 million more a year, the city will save about $1 million a year,” Adachi said. The PD has submitted a budget of about $15.5 million for the next fiscal year, which Adachi said would preserve a current staff of 82 attorneys, including 11 new ones hired since he took office in January, and 15 investigators, one paralegal and 20 other support staff. Under a “Strategic Three-Year Plan” submitted with the PD’s fiscal 2003-04 proposal, Adachi wants to add at least 18 lawyers, 25 paralegals and 10 investigators. Additional staff would allow his office to handle more cases, he argues, thereby decreasing the number of cases the PD ends up referring to the conflicts panel, a group of private attorneys who handle cases the PD cannot, either because of caseload or conflict. Though more public defenders would “make life more difficult” for the district attorney’s office, said DA Terence Hallinan, even he can appreciate the angle Adachi has taken. “If it would save us money to have more public defenders, that’s a good argument,” Hallinan said. If the PD’s office were allowed roughly $1 million more in its annual budget to hire more people, the city would spend about $2 million less a year on conflict counsel, Adachi contends. In the current fiscal year, San Francisco anticipates paying $7.5 million for conflicts counsel, $1.2 million over the budgeted cost, according to Adachi’s three-year plan. “We’ve been able to show that there’s a relationship between the number of cases to the conflicts panel and cuts to staffing in the public defender’s office,” Adachi said. “One of the problems of the past is that they’ve always been looked at separately.” Adachi claims that public defenders in San Francisco are handling three to four times as many cases as their counterparts in Santa Clara and San Diego counties, based on a caseload study he conducted last fall. He’s so confident in those results that he requested that the San Francisco controller do an independent caseload audit of the PD’s office, which is under way. Adachi thinks the controller will reach similar conclusions, he said, which he hopes will encourage the mayor and Board of Supervisors to bolster the public defender’s funding. Adachi wasn’t the only department head to claim that his attorneys are overworked and that their caseloads are high compared to other counties. DA Hallinan echoed those complaints in his budget submission, which stated that the DA has already “substantially increased attorney caseloads.” But while Adachi structured an argument to increase the public defender’s staff, Hallinan reluctantly proposed eliminating some vacant positions, downgrading others, doing away with performance bonuses, and asking his employees to take voluntary furloughs. The district attorney makes it clear, though, that he would consider any cuts to his office a threat to public safety, and he passionately argues against them in his budget submission. The DA’s office is already “strained far beyond capacity and any further reduction to my department’s budget will present a serious threat to the safety of San Francisco’s citizens,” Hallinan’s budget submission says. Funding for “public safety departments,” such as police, prosecution, sheriff and fire departments should be prioritized and cut less deeply than budgets for other city services, it argues. “If you give up district attorneys, you’re going to give up a certain amount of prosecutions,” and the upshot will be fewer people going to jail, as well as a slower process, Hallinan said. In the 1990s former DA Arlo Smith had to cut so much of his support staff that lawyers were making copies and typing letters, something the DA’s office may have to face again, said Hallinan. The district attorney’s budget currently includes positions for 122 attorneys, 45 investigators and 104 support staff, said Teresa Serata, the DA’s chief financial officer. Eight of the attorney positions and seven of the non-attorney jobs are currently vacant, she said. Hallinan proposes downgrading nine positions — including the eight vacant attorney positions — and eliminating the seven vacant non-attorney positions altogether. He may also eliminate performance bonuses for the nine employees who have qualified for them in the past, and ask each of his employees to take five days of voluntary unpaid leave in the coming fiscal year, according to his budget submission and comments from Serata. The DA can’t mandate unpaid time off due to employment agreements, Serata said. The DA’s proposal falls a bit short of the mayor’s direction to identify $2.1 million in cuts from a roughly $33.8 million operating budget, said Serata. To meet that target would require eliminating two more attorney positions, Hallinan’s submission states. “I simply cannot present a budget that makes it impossible for my office to do the job mandated by state law,” it says. City Attorney Dennis Herrera also hopes that voluntary furloughs will help avoid layoffs. He’s proposed a range of possibilities to address possible cuts of $1.1 million to $2.2 million from a roughly $45 million annual budget, according to a heads-up he e-mailed to his staff before submitting his budget proposal. To cut $1.1 million, for instance, the city attorney’s office could lay off approximately eight of about 190 attorneys, cut 15.5 of roughly 135 support positions, or eliminate a combination of 10 positions, said David Dupree, Herrera’s director of administrative services. But in his e-mail to staff, Herrera said, “I am hopeful that a program of voluntary furloughs by attorneys will allow us to minimize the need for layoffs.” If staff reductions are necessary, they’d come in non-litigation legal services, such as providing advice and drafting and reviewing legislation, contracts and other legal documents, says the three-year strategic outlook Herrera submitted. Spending reductions in his department would disproportionately impact so-called general fund departments that require the city attorney’s services most, he warns — including the mayor’s office and Board of Supervisors. Mayor Brown will propose a budget to the Board of Supervisors by June 2, the next major step toward adopting a budget for fiscal year 2003-04, which begins July 1.

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