Adachi, Newsom at odds over justice center

August 6, 2009 9:21:06 PM PDT
San Francisco's public defender has been warning that if his office took budget cuts, there would be serious consequences. A few days ago, the cuts and today, the consequences.

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Despite demonstrations by San Francisco's public defender Jeff Adachi, his office was cut $950,000 when the mayor signed a new city budget earlier this week.

As a consequence, Adachi is now shifting the responsibility of defending some new cases including homicides, to pricey private attorneys. And today he asked a judge to also let him walk away from the city's new community justice center -- a pet project of the mayor's.

"I don't have enough staff to handle all the cases," said Adachi.

The Community Justice Center opened in March in the Tenderloin to prosecute low-level crimes like petty theft and drug possession. Those who appear are referred to on-site social services.

A recent study showed more than half the cases are dismissed, but the presiding judge disputes those numbers and says the court is making a difference.

"The 300 that have been part jof the program , nearly 100 percent of thwem have voluntarily engaged in treatment services," said Judge Ron Albers from San Francisco Community Justice Center.

ADachi says the mayor has gone back on a promise to pay for his attornies, so he isn't taking on any new cases, and wants the 200 still on his plate to be transferred to private lawyers.

"The reason why we cant staff this court is because the city, out of $2.5 million budget for the court, hasn't given any money for public defenders," said Adachi.

On Thursday, a Superior Court judge ruled the public defenders office can withdraw from cases his attorneys aren't yet deeply involved in. The judge will decide about those remaining cases, 25 or so next week.

The city will now have to come up with a plan b for the community justice court. It's not clear how much that will cost.

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