NorCal County Renews Unique, Criticized Private Defender Program

San Mateo County originally implemented it as a means to reduce costs.

The 40-year-old program has come under fire after some feel that the attorneys within the program did not prioritize their case. Convincing an accused person to sign a plea agreement, versus going to trial, saves time and money.

The program’s 114 private attorneys handled some 20,000 cases last year alone. In that time, 80 complaints were filed and the Chief Defender John Digiacinto says they review attorneys with complaints and have limited the cases they are given as a result.

Digiacinto also admitted that their data on court results is spotty, as not all attorneys respond with their numbers. 

San Mateo NAACP Former President Marie Davis has raised concerns over the program for years. She and her team found that no black individual had won their case with a private defender for the last five years.

County Supervisor Dave Pine mentioned that the county recently hired a Deputy County Manager who is interested in looking at the performance of the program. Chief Defender Digiacinto expressed a willingness to improve the program via community feedback and more diverse hiring practices.