Nevada County to add to public defenders pool
The Nevada County Board of Supervisors are set to enter into a contract with Truckee lawyer Alison Bermant in an effort to bolster their pool of public defenders.
It is the duty of Nevada County Superior Court to appoint defense counsel in cases where the Public Defender’s Office declares a conflict of interest, but it is up to Nevada County to develop a pool of attorneys from which the court can select, said Assistant County Executive Alison Lehman.
“We’ve been trying to develop a pool for the past year, and we are still trying to develop it,” she said. “Alison Bermant is a highly regarded attorney and will be the only contracted conflict indigent attorney in the Truckee area.”
The contract with Bermant is unrelated to the case of Phil Lester and Susan Laferte, who are being tried for a slew of financial crimes relating to a hard money lending operation Lester allegedly headed, Lehman said.
The county continues to provide counsel for both Lester and Laferte and has spent $126,813 on the case as of Oct. 4, according to County Executive Officer Rick Haffey’s weekly memo. For the fiscal year 2013-14, costs for the case total $25,242.
Expenses for the present fiscal year, which began July 1, account for nearly 40 percent of the county’s indigent defense fund, while expenses relating to the case accounted for 20 percent of fiscal year 2012-13’s fund.
During budget season in May and June, Haffey repeatedly referred to expenses relating to the case as carrying a potentially detrimental impact to the annual county budget.
The county estimated the total cost of providing defense in the case at $600,000, but that was before charges against Ellen Lester and Jon Blinder were dropped.
Nevertheless, the county expects costs to increase as the trial enters the more time intensive pre-trial and trial phases, the memo states. California law currently allows for reimbursement to counties for indigent costs relating to murder trials.
County officials have enlisted state Sen. Ted Gaines to introduce a bill (Senate Bill 16) that would stipulate reimbursement of other types of trials when the state Attorney General is handling investigation and prosecution.
Nevada County’s Public Defender Don Lown expressed frustration last year that the county was footing the bill for people who boasted high incomes and numerous assets just a few years ago.
“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,” Lown said last December.
“The county is trying hard not to lay people off — and now here we are, representing former millionaires. It’s very frustrating.”
Lester’s former court-appointed public defender, Ken Tribby, resigned from the case in July after being arrested and accused of domestic violence.
The charges were dropped in early September.
Nevada County Superior Court Judge Candace Heidelberger subsequently appointed El Dorado Hills attorney Mary Beth Acton to replace Tribby.
A hearing was scheduled for Oct. 18 to set the trial date, but Laferte’s attorney, Greg Klein, has requested a continuance. A hearing on that motion is set for Oct. 10.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239. Staff writer Liz Kellar contributed to this report.
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