PD’s Role May Expand

Public Defender Ricardo Garcia speaks to board members about creating a Civil Defense Justice Unit, as Director of Consumer and Business Affairs Joe Nicchitta looks on.

In a 5-0 decision, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted Sept. 10 to study the creation of a Civil Defense Justice Unit within the Public Defender’s Office.

Creating such a unit would expand the role of the Office to include representing clients in civil legal issues such as fighting evictions. Submitted by Supervisor Hilda Solis, the Board requested a report back within four months.

“By helping our residents obtain and maintain stability in their communities, some of the root causes that cause people to commit criminal acts associated with instability are addressed — that’s what you call holistic,” Solis said.

“This is a unique opportunity for our County to transform the way we provide public defender services. To use the resources of that Office that respond to the needs of our most vulnerable residents in a way that is proactive and holistic.”

Speaking to the Board, Public Defender Ricardo García called the possible civil representation within the criminal justice system “critical and forward thinking.”

“When we talk about holistic representation, we often think about addressing questions of rehabilitation, mental illness and addressing those very important issues once a person touches the system,” García said.

“But what we oftentimes don’t discuss adequately is how do we deal with collateral consequences of contact with the system which gravely effect every individual regardless of whether they have these underlying psychological addiction issues. That has to do with the effect of just being arrested.”

The boardroom was packed with residents supporting an ordinance for rent control during Sept. 10 meeting.

García talked about the downward effect of having a car impounded and not being able to pay rent while in jail, then facing eviction. He pointed out that 67-69 percent of the homeless population is justice involved.

“I think we could lead the way like no other county in protecting our community from these collateral damages,” he said.

Earlier in the day, to a roar of applause, the Board voted 5-0 to establish a permanent ordinance to limit rent increases and provide tenant protections, eviction defense and prevention services in LA County. Supervisors expect that the move will provide tenant stability and thwart rising homelessness.