Video Blindspots

I served as Public Defender of Santa Barbara County for 24 years and have some knowledge of the historic relationship between the private criminal defense bar and the County Public Defenders Office. In addition I have been a past president of the Santa Barbara County Bar Association and a past co-chair of the Santa Barbara Criminal Defense Bar. With this perspective I am extremely pleased to see the private bar reconstitute its voice on behalf of criminal defendants.

With regard to the issue of “video arraignments” I have a particular and long history. As president of the California Public Defenders Association I testified before the State Legislature in opposition to a proposal that required defense attorneys to staff arraignment cells in jails while prosecutors and private attorneys went to the actual courtroom where the judge presided. I did this because in observing the model proposed I saw that the lawyer in the jail, who appeared by video screen, was often speaking to no one as it was easy for the court and prosecutor to ignore comments and impossible for the lawyer to see this. The lawyer at the jail also cannot communicate with family or friends of the accused who appear in the courtroom to speak to the facts or for bail or release. It also results in fewer arraignment dispositions, thus prolonging the case at cost to the court and prosecution and defense.

There are other reasons to oppose the idea of video arraignments in the fashion allegedly supported by the current Public Defender, but in summary the present proposal appears more designed to serve the interests of the Board of Supervisors or those of the Sheriff than those of her clients.

Good luck to the private bar in their efforts to protect the interests of accused people in this county.

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