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A plan to consolidate juvenile dependency cases away from the public defender’s office has left some attorneys’ jobs in limbo, but it appears court officials may be reassessing its options. Alameda County Superior Court had approached the Alameda County Bar Association about taking a $2 million contract to provide representation for kids whose parents fail to give them sufficient care. Asked how losing the juvenile dependency contract would affect the office, Public Defender Diane Bellas said, “that’s like asking a public defender how would it feel to lose a ventricle.” The ACBA also holds a separate contract to represent parents involved in similar cases. This contract has been extended until 2008. According to Assistant Public Defender Harold Friedman, when he was informed on Feb. 28 that the office’s juvenile dependency contract would not be renewed when it expired on June 30, he informed the juvenile dependency unit’s 11 attorneys that their jobs were in jeopardy. The PD’s office secured the three-year contract in 2003 after an open bidding process. But following a March 9 meeting between PD, court and bar association officials, concern about the logistics of transferring the unit’s 2,000 cases may have given the court pause. Bellas said she is loath to lose the contract � and not just because it may cost her funding and staff resources. “The issue ultimately comes down less on the impact on the office and more on the impact on the kids,” she said. If the court transfers its dependency contract to the bar association, Bellas is concerned that these children, who’ve been identified by social service workers as lacking sufficient parental care, may be lost in the shuffle. “We have the strength of a very well-established institution behind those lawyers,” she said. Cheryl Hicks, a dependency attorney and president-elect of ACBA, said the court approached the bar association about taking over the PD’s contract but gave no indication about when a decision would be made. “We didn’t know what the process would be,” she said. Joanne Lederman, the assistant executive officer for the court, said the court generally doesn’t speak publicly about contract talks and declined to say exactly how this decision would be made or who would make it. “Sometimes there are situations where, for any number of reasons, it’s not appropriate to do that,” Lederman said. She said this case warrants special sensitivity because dependency clients may experience a change of counsel and it’s “not clear what that’s going to look like.” Judge Carl Morris, who presides over the court’s juvenile division, also declined to answer questions about the dependency contract. Some say the decision may finally be resolved early next month, when Presiding Judge George Hernandez Jr. returns from vacation. In the meantime, the PD’s office is being held in suspense as it ponders which organization will handle dependency work in Alameda County once its contract expires in June. The Alameda County PD’s office has held onto its juvenile dependency units even as other PD offices declined to keep them after funding shifted from individual counties to the state Legislature in 1997. The Administrative Office of the Courts is expected to establish consistent guidelines for how the services should be handled statewide. But nobody’s quite certain what the AOC will eventually decide. “Everyone is sensing that two years from now, all of this is going to come to a head,” Bellas said.

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