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SAN JOSE — Santa Clara prosecutors and deputy public defenders — who last year were celebrating double-digit pay raises — may now have priced themselves out of the misdemeanor market. The county’s Board of Supervisors, in the middle of budget negotiations, wants to know if it would be cheaper to lay off the PD’s misdemeanor team and outsource the work. At a budget meeting May 12, Supervisor James Beall Jr. asked for research on how much other Bay Area counties spend to prosecute misdemeanors. Supervisors also broached the idea of having city attorneys — rather than the deputy DAs — handle misdemeanor prosecutions. But District Attorney George Kennedy and Public Defender Jose Villarreal contend they’re still the best deal in town when it comes to cost and quality. And Aimee Escobar, policy aide for Supervisor Pete McHugh — who ordered the PD cost comparison — said it’s unrealistic “to even think of going out for a [request for bid] now. That was never our intention. We wanted to see how the cost compared.” According to the county comparison, the PD appears to be the least expensive option, with an average of $284 spent per misdemeanor case in 2002 — compared with the county’s conflict panel, Legal Aid Society, which spent $306 per misdemeanor case. But just the suggestion that other agencies might be able to do the job cheaper seems to be giving the county the upper hand in negotiations. Villarreal, who originally said that misdemeanor defense costs the office $2.7 million a year, lowered his estimate to $2 million after the county conducted its cost comparison. “Why the adjustment, he never really said,” Escobar said. PD managers declined to comment, saying negotiations are still under way. Deputy DA and the office’s finance director, Michael Gaffey, said all the fat has already been trimmed. “What they are probably trying to do is get down to the level of service where we are able to meet all our mandates, and there is no fluff left,” Gaffey said. “We have been very forthright with them.” While the county has several options for misdemeanor defense, according to state law, the only way the Board of Supervisors can contract out misdemeanor prosecutions is with the consent of the DA. Gaffey said that’s not going to happen. “There are good reasons to have the DA be the prosecutor of misdemeanors consistently throughout the county,” Gaffey said. “The DA is far more independent. The city attorney is working at will under a city manager and a city council. It would put the city attorney in a rather awkward position if the spouse of a city council member was arrested for DUI.” In March, both offices submitted proposals cutting 13.5 percent of their budgets, as ordered by the Board of Supervisors. Both the DA and PD have argued that the cuts — equaling $4.5 million in the PD’s office and $8 million in the DA’s office — were unreasonable and violated constitutional mandates to prosecute crimes and defend indigent victims. Another key component to the budget negotiating is attorney raises. The union for deputy DAs and PDs, the Government Attorneys Association, negotiated 15.5 percent raises this year and as much as another 15.5 percent starting in August. County Counsel Ann Ravel and supervisors, who approved the deal two years ago, are now saying the raises are too much. GAA President James Shore did not return phone calls, but said in April that the union was exploring its options. So far, supervisors have not backed off their 13.5 percent reduction targets, and attorneys are keeping their raises, which means that 24 deputy public defenders and as many as nine deputy DAs will be getting notices this week that pink slips could be on the way. Final budget hearings are scheduled for June 16.

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