State Senator Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, one of the two state senators currently representing Nevada County, has sponsored a bill that would allow counties to secure reimbursement for the provision of public defender services for persons prosecuted by the California Attorney General.
The law relates directly to the Phil Lester case, where Lester, his wife, Ellen Lester, his sister, Susan Laferte, and his former business associate, Jon Blinder, were arrested in September for allegedly defrauding investors of millions of dollars over a period of eight years.
Charges have since been dropped against Blinder and Ellen Lester, but Laferte and Phil Lester have retained public defenders, claiming they cannot afford to pay legal bills to fight the case.
Gaines’ bill was introduced after an urgent request for legislative assistance by Nevada County, according to County Executive Officer Rick Haffey’s weekly memo.
Haffey estimates the defense will cost county taxpayers in the excess of $600,000 annually.
“The astronomical cost regarding a trial of this nature was not anticipated when the county’s budget was planned and approved, and there was no warning as to the impending charges when the case was filed by the Attorney General,” the memo states.
The county’s budget for the myriad indigent defense cases that occur each year is about $488,000, Haffey said.
“It’s offensive to think that poor people are paying to defend these formerly rich people in order to get restitution for other rich people,” said Nevada County Public Defender Don Lown last December.
“The county is trying hard not to lay people off — and now here we are, representing former millionaires. It’s very frustrating.”
Lown joined County Counsel Alison Barratt Green in Sacramento this week to testify in front of the Senate Governance and Finance Committee.
“Providing legal counsel matched against the resources of the state’s Attorney General is a daunting fiscal task and may result in sever impacts to Nevada County’s general fund,” said Nevada County Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Hank Weston in a letter to Senator Lois Wolk. “Due to the nature of the case, which is paper-intensive and requires major resources to review all documentation, it is expected to be a lengthy trial with untold hours of legal time devoted to the defense.”
Gaines’ bill next will be reviewed by the Senate Standing Committee on Public Safety.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4239.