BASF’s Indigent Defense Program Celebrates Ten Years

by Julie Traun, Director of Court Programs, Lawyer Referral and Information Service

IDA-receptionTen years ago this month, the Indigent Defense Administration (IDA) commenced oversight of all administrative/fiscal responsibilities for the panel of criminal defense practitioners who represent indigent minors and adults for whom the Public Defender has a conflict of interest.

BASF, through its state bar certified Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS) had long provided San Francisco Superior Court with attorneys well qualified to handle the appointments in conflict of interest cases. In 2003, the Superior Court, and in particular then Presiding Judge Donna Hitchens, together with then LRIS Director Carol Woods and Public Defender Jeff Adachi reached a Memorandum of Understanding with the mayor and Board of Supervisors, directing BASF to undertake new responsibilities associated with overseeing all attorney and ancillary billing connected with indigent defense.

In ten years, BASF/LRIS has not only established unprecedented oversight and accountability for the work of a remarkable panel of attorneys, as well as all court appointed investigators and experts, the Indigent Defense Administration has become a model for the state. Fifty-eight counties in California have adopted nearly 58 models for indigent defense. San Francisco’s leadership, made possible with a committed bar association, bench and Public Defender assure the highest quality representation, yet keep the costs affordable. Recently, Alameda County adopted BASF’s model and is reorganizing its panel of attorneys and the oversight connected. In time, it is hoped other counties will follow.

Typically one third of all criminal prosecutions pose a conflict of interest. The panel of attorneys responsible for handling these cases in San Francisco is comprised of some of the best practitioners in San Francisco. Each understands the importance of their work, and complements their private practice with this important public service. Defending the underdog, the poor, the oppressed, keeping the government honest, making the Constitution matter, really matter, to every citizen, is without a doubt the heart and soul of criminal dense work. And Public Defenders need a strong partner in the private sector, for together, neither risks becoming so institutionalized, so policy-driven or budget constrained that the effectiveness of representation for those who cannot afford a lawyer suffers.

Without the backing of BASF and our Superior Court, this partnership would not be possible. The poor would lack high quality representation, and for this we are all grateful.