Does L.A. County Need an Elected Public Defender?

Widespread dissatisfaction with L.A. County’s pick for interim public defender, Nicole Davis Tinkham, was on full display again Monday outside the Clara Shortridge Foltz courthouse in Downtown L.A. It was the 54th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized the 6th Amendment right to counsel. L.A.’s public defenders spent the milestone rallying against their new boss.

Tinkham has been on the firing line since before she was even hired. More than half of the office’s public defenders penned a letter to the Board of Supervisors before her appointment, urging them to reconsider.  After she was named to the job, 150 employees protested the decision.

The criticism of Tinkham surrounds her lack of criminal experience, as well previous work for members of the county’s sheriff’s department. Members of the office have called her hiring a 'slap in the face.'

In the wake of the controversy, some have been asking whether L.A. should begin electing its public defenders as San Francisco does. On that suggestion, the L.A. Times Editorial Board shot back this week with a resounding “no.”

L.A. and San Francisco are two different animals, the Times notes. San Francisco is “small, compact and notoriously liberal, it's a city in which voters are at least as vested in who represents criminal defendants as who prosecutes them.” L.A., on the other hand, is far less consistent in its progressivism, according to the paper.

“If L.A. were going through one of its fear-of-crime waves, voters who want to crack down on crime might, if they elected the public defender, find themselves in the perverse position of choosing the least effective defense lawyer for indigent people accused of crimes,” the Times worries.

The conclusion: “L.A. County doesn't need an elected public defender. It needs its office to be audited, examined, shaken up and set right.”


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