By Loni Morganelli
American Paralegal in London
Last week, San Francisco Public Defender, Jeff Adachi, stressed the need for more paralegals on his staff. Without the proper staff, adequate resources, and valuable services of paralegals, he may have to turn away high-profile cases, such as homicides and other major felonies. Such a move will result in some cases being transferred to private attorneys costing the city up to $120 an hour for legal services. In a time of economic scrutiny, this process would cost the city of San Francisco more than one million dollars a year.
In a public statement, Adachi said that his department was the only constitutionally mandated office in the city. They have an added responsibility and obligation to the public to decline representation if they are not properly staffed to handle the caseload. The pressure of such action caused Adachi to beg the Mayor of San Francisco and its Board of Supervisors for two part-time paralegals at a total cost to the city of $50,000. When one does the math, it does not seem that the public defender was asking too much here. I say $50,000 versus $1,000,000 – pretty easy decision!
Unfortunately, Adachi’s request was denied in light of the $500 million budget deficit facing the city next fiscal year and numerous department cutbacks. This story paints a particularly grey picture for paralegals. While their services are still desperately needed in areas like the public defender’s office, major deficits all across the country are slicing those prospects in half. Too bad this supervisory board couldn’t see the bigger picture and cost in savings that hiring these two paralegals could have provided.
In defense of his office, Public Defender Adachi stated that his office has made many sacrifices, noting that the union representing city lawyers gave back $3.1 million in wages in the last fiscal year. His office has five empty positions. The public defender's office already handles three to four times the number of cases a private attorney would, and that the entire staff works overtime without pay. Where is the justice? Two part-time paralegals are not a burden in a sector where bureaucratic over-spenders are very well-known.