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San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi has cleared a crucial hurdle in his quest to add 17 new employees to his staff in the fall. Mayor Willie Brown has indicated he’ll back the request by incorporating it into his proposed budget for fiscal year 2003-2004, Adachi said. “Basically, we’re in agreement with the public defender,” said P.J. Johnston, a spokesman for the mayor. Johnston said Mayor Brown is convinced that pumping up the public defender’s staff will help the PD’s office work more effectively and save the city money — points that Adachi has argued. The city is wrestling with a $350 million deficit, and many departments have been asked to identify cuts for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The new hires aren’t a lock, though, until the Board of Supervisors approves the budget, Adachi said. Adachi has said that with a bigger staff, his office could handle more cases, making the city less reliant on more expensive private defenders from the conflicts panel, who handle cases when the PD declares a conflict. A memo from the controller’s city projects division largely seconded those arguments in a report released Friday. “That certainly bolstered the public defender’s argument,” Johnston said of the memo. “Obviously, we’re extremely grateful,” Adachi said. The public defender requested nine paralegals, six attorneys and two investigators, which would add about $1.2 million in costs to his annual budget, he said. That’s the first installment of Adachi’s strategic plan. The plan suggests increasing the PD’s staff by 53 employees — or 45 percent — total over the next three years. The PD currently employs 118 people. The PD said last week he’d requested a $15.5 million budget to maintain current staffing, including the 11 attorneys he’s hired since taking office in January.

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