‘Just doing our jobs’

Paralegal Miriam Singer and Senior Paralegal Rose Castellanos hold up their State Senate resolutions, with Public Defender Ricardo García and Supervising Paralegal Rhonda Cameron.

For the first time in the LA County Public Defender’s Office, two paralegals have been commended by the State Senate for their “exemplary record of contribution to the people of the State of California.”

Paralegal Miriam Singer and Senior Paralegal Rose Castellanos were sent framed certificates from California Senate District 33, signed by then-Sen. Ricardo Lara (as of Jan. 7, California insurance commissioner).

“I’m so proud of the exceptional work of our paralegals, and Miriam and Rose exemplify the crucial role they play in the Public Defender’s Office,” Public Defender Ricardo García said. “They also shine a positive light on the importance of post-conviction relief in allowing our former clients to become productive members of society.”

Both paralegals handle Certificate of Rehabilitation (COR) requests, California court-orders declaring that a person previously convicted of a felony (or misdemeanor sex offense) is now rehabilitated. The purpose of the COR is to restore civil and political rights of citizenship to ex-felons who have proven their rehabilitation.

“It feels great to be truly making a difference in people’s lives,” said Singer, who started her PD career in 2007, assigned for the first four years to what was then-called the Sexually Violent Predator Unit. “As I told the senator’s office, ‘We’re just doing our jobs.’ ”

Miriam Singer and Rose Castellanos stand in front of their “wall of pardons.”

The State Senate passed a resolution stating that Singer and Castellanos each has “taken to heart her responsibility to serve the public by helping to protect the life and liberty of individuals and ensure equal treatment within the justice system; and through her efforts, she has made a significant difference in the lives of countless people throughout Los Angeles County and beyond.”

“I was so honored,” said Castellanos, who began her PD career in 1987 in CCB. “And pleasantly surprised.”

The honor came after a spokesperson for a few Assembly districts requested assistance in locating candidates for governor’s pardons, prior to Gov. Jerry Brown’s departure. Singer combed through about 2,000 CORs issued over the past decade. That’s because those granted CORs may apply for a gubernatorial pardon, which restores even more rights lost after a criminal conviction.

The PD Office does not handle pardons. Once clients are granted a COR, their files are sent to Sacramento to the Legal Affairs Department of the governor’s office to be considered for a pardon. Singer and Castellanos give COR clients contact information to follow up. The governor’s office requires a COR and 10 years from the most recent felony to be considered for a pardon, with some exceptions.

Last year, 23 PD-issued Certificate of Rehabilitation petitions became pardons. The majority — 14 of the 23 — were pardoned on Dec. 24 by then-Gov. Brown. Brown had issued more commutations than any California governor since the 1940s.

After the Assembly districts’ calls, Lara’s office worked with Singer on what the senator considered a sensitive COR case and was very impressed with the handling of the case.

“Sen. Lara’s office thanked us for our patience and professionalism,” Singer said. “They told us, ‘What you do really does give people a second chance.’ ”