1100 Anacapa Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Public Defender offices are created under state and local law for the purpose of providing legal services in certain kinds of cases. In Santa Barbara County it exists as a department of the County government created by Resolution 69-6 of the Board of Supervisors pursuant to the authority granted by section 27000 of the Government Code of the State of California.

As is typical throughout California, this office provides services to effectuate the Constitutional rights of people facing legal process. The right to counsel in criminal cases is established by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and Article XX of the Constitution of the State of California. The right to counsel in other types of proceedings is dependent upon other legal provisions and case law.

This office was created on January 6, 1969, and accepted its first cases in June of that year. It was at about the time that many other Public Defender Offices were created nationally. This was in response to the United States Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright. In Gideon it was held that anyone facing the potential for significant incarceration if convicted of a criminal charge has the right to a free lawyer should they not be able to hire one themselves. While this idea was not new to California, the publicity of the case created a dramatic increase in the number of defendants asking for lawyers and counties around the state and across the nation rushed to make use of long-standing laws allowing the creation of such offices. (Eventually the facts of that case where presented in a book, Gideon's Trumpet by Anthony Lewis. This in turn became a movie of the same name starring Henry Fonda.)

The office is limited by law as to the kinds of cases it can handle. In general we are authorized to represent persons charged with felony or misdemeanor crimes. We cannot represent people charged with infractions (such as most traffic tickets). We also represent young people who have cases pending in the Juvenile Court. A small percentage of the cases we handle include representation of persons who are being involuntarily detained due to alleged mental illness; some contempt of court cases; and, representation of parties persons against whom the county is seeking to terminate parental rights.

Even more rarely, we are authorized to represent persons challenging the conditions of their confinement which means that we occasionally get involved in litigation regarding local jail matters, such as complaints about overcrowding or medical care.

We do not represent persons in civil lawsuits such as personal injury, landlord tenant, dissolution or child custody fights between private parties. We also do not represent persons seeking to collect or being forced to pay child support through the civil court process.

In a typical year this office will represent clients in more than 23,000 matters.

In most cases, the person seeking our representation must be indigent. This means that they are without the resources to hire their own attorney. The decision as to whether or not an applicant is indigent is one for the court to determine in the end, although we can make a preliminary call.

In juvenile cases we represent the minor without regard to the indigency of the young person.

In mental health cases we represent the subject of the detention or conservatorship application without regard to the resources of that individual.

Generally speaking, the test of indigency in this situation is whether or not the applicant has enough resources available to secure the services of a competent private attorney to handle the case. This definition means that the decision regarding indigency must examine both the amount of resource available to the applicant and the significance of the charges pending against that person. For example, a person with a few thousand dollars on hand is generally able to obtain a private attorney if charged with driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. That same person almost certainly could not obtain paid counsel if charged with murder.

Applicants for our assistance who are not in custody must complete a Financial Declaration and Application on which they disclose their economic circumstances. This statement is made under penalty of perjury. In many courts it is provided directly to the judge to review and decide if the Public Defender should be appointed to the case. In other courts, the Public Defender attorney reviews the application and makes the call, referring close cases to the court for review.

Most clients, apply for our services when they make their first appearance in court at their arraignment. At that time they will be asked to complete a financial disclosure statement and application. Prospective clients may also apply for our services by coming into any one of our offices and completing the same forms. Many clients initiate service in this way, especially in our Santa Barbara Courthouse office.

All adult clients charged with crimes are expected to pay for the services they receive to the extent of their ability to do so. The determination as to whether or not the client has that ability is made by the trial court judge at the conclusion of the case. Currently the cost of providing Public Defender services is about $90.00 an hour. In order to determine the cost of a representation, the Public Defender attorney will disclose to the court how much time she spent on the case. A judge may then order the client to pay all or a part of the cost of the service.

In Juvenile Court cases, the family of the client may be assessed for the costs of the Public Defender service using about the same process as described above.

Mental Health clients who have sufficient funds in their estate pay for the services of the office in annual accountings approved by the court.

Penal Code section 987.8 states: In any case in which a defendant is provided an attorney, either a Public Defender or Court-appointed counsel, upon conclusion of the criminal proceedings, or withdrawal of the Public Defender, the court may, after notice and a hearing, make a determination of the present ability of the defendant to pay all or a portion of the cost of that legal representation. The Court may hold an additional hearing within six (6) months of the conclusion of the criminal proceedings. The Court may order a defendant to appear before a county officer to inquire into the defendant's ability to reimburse the county for legal assistance. Issues regarding collection of fees should be addressed to the Court which ordered the fee paid or to the Treasurer-Tax Collectors Office of the County of Santa Barbara.

The office is currently (Spring 2017) staffed with 71 employees as follows:

Attorneys: 40

Secretaries/Clerical: 22

Investigators: 7 ; Social Workers 2

The Santa Barbara Public Defenders Office relies heavily upon volunteers to accomplish its task. Volunteers can be categorized into three groups as follows:

Undergraduate students. Students from local colleges, especially UCSB and SBCC are offered the opportunity to observe the arraignment court and to assist the attorneys handling this busiest of calendars. The students work at counsel table in the court performing clerical and other gofer tasks but are rewarded by observing the real criminal court activity.

Law Students. Each summer the office sponsors a summer internship program that offers volunteer students from across the nation, and occasionally from across the sea, the opportunity to work closely with deputy public defenders in researching, preparing and helping to present cases. Students in recent years have come from UCLA., Berkeley, Nebraska, Michigan, Lewis and Clark, Tulane, American University, Virginia, Detroit and many others. Generally we accept 3-4 students in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria. Applications are accepted through February and selections are made in late March.

Attorneys. Generally, the office has one to three volunteer attorneys on staff at any given time. These attorneys are given assistance and guidance in learning about local courts and the criminal law. They are given the opportunity to develop specialized interests (for example in juvenile or mental health issues). Each is given responsibility for a caseload which he or she feels can be handled. Weekly staff meetings and a close working relationship with staff attorneys assist them to grow in their comfort with trial work and the defense of our clients. See Volunteer of the Year for a list of recipients of special recognition in this area.

Other work. On occasion we receive volunteer offers from folks interested in everything from assisting our Investigators to doing clerical support. We are open to such situations and have found them to be mutually rewarding.

If you are interested in volunteering with this office please contact the office at (805) 568-3470 to discuss the idea.

The Public Defenders Office is a department of the County of Santa Barbara which operates under a civil service system. Recruitments are handled by the Personnel Department and application materials may be obtained from them.

See Also: Common Legal Terms