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The Alameda County bench flirted with an Orange County lawyer who handles juvenile dependency cases in three other counties, but ultimately awarded a $6 million contract to the Alameda County Bar Association, the court revealed Thursday. “It’s good for the bar association and it’s good for the court,” Presiding Judge Harry Sheppard said. The three-year deal caps month of speculation about the contract. The bar association, which currently does the work, faced stiff competition from Orange-based dependency specialist Gary Proctor. His company has snapped up contracts to represent parents in Orange, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Proctor actually bid a lower amount than the bar association, but the court concluded it would save money in the long run by keeping the contract with the bar. Sheppard said the court wasn’t playing favorites with the bar. “We weren’t going to cut them any slack financially,” he said. Indeed, the bar association made several moves to sweeten the deal. It will hire a managing attorney to oversee its 60-attorney panel, coordinate training and make appearances when the panel is shorthanded. The bar also agreed to lower some standard fees — for example, it dropped the fee for visiting a child in the county from $100 to $75 — and will assume the county’s role of dispensing checks to dependency attorneys. The bar’s bid was $6.5 million, but the court negotiated the price down to $5.9 million. “We believe that we made a very competitive bid,” said Cheryl Hicks, a bar board member and a dependency attorney on the Civil Court Appointed Attorney Program. Under the contract the bar will now represent parents only. The public defender’s office is bidding on the children’s contract. Hicks said she and bar officials compared notes with a legal aid group that unsuccessfully competed with Proctor for a Santa Clara County dependency contract. The bar was concerned that Proctor would bid low and hire relatively inexperienced lawyers. “We felt that we were much more qualified,” said Hicks, noting that the bar has handled such dependency cases for nearly 20 years. Proctor, who was not available for comment Thursday, said in an earlier interview that the court had notified him he would not be getting the contract. “My sense is that [the bar association] has a different type of model,” Proctor said. “The panel better suits their needs.” Proctor’s firm, Dependency Legal Services, advocates a collaborative approach to dependency cases. Supporters, such as Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Leonard Edwards, have praised him for helping establish domestic violence and drug programs that deal with underlying issues in dependency cases. Critics, including Sixth District Appellate Project Director Michael Kresser, argued that the collaborative approach fails to protect parents’ legal rights. Proctor’s East Bay proposal would have created a company called Alameda County Juvenile Court Defenders with 17 attorneys, four paralegals and two social workers. The group would have taken new cases and, gradually, the bar association’s existing parent caseload. The contract was finalized July 10, but information on the bidding was not released until Thursday. According to the bid documentation, Proctor gave a lower final bid than the bar association �� $5.7 million. If the court had picked Proctor, however, it would have had to pay an estimated $1.5 million to the bar association over three years in order to complete existing cases. There were other drawbacks, the presiding judge said. Proctor’s bid would have required that the court restructure its handling of juvenile cases. While the bar had an established panel of seasoned attorneys, Proctor would have had to hire local lawyers to fill out his initial staff. While Proctor’s “reputation in Santa Clara County is very good,” the PJ said, the court would have had to rely “on faith” that those new attorneys would be qualified. The previous contracts were pegged to the numbers of cases the bar association handled. The court paid the bar $2.9 million in fiscal 2001-02 and $2.4 million in 2002-03. But court and bar officials said those contracts were structured differently and can’t be compared to the deal reached this month. Meanwhile, the public defender, which traditionally represents children in some dependency cases, was the only bidder on that contract. The public defender plans to expand its program to represent children in all dependency cases, including those now represented by the bar association. That deal awaits approval by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Sheppard said.

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