The Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas to revoke a prior County resolution that charged indigent defendants a $50 registration fee to obtain legal services from a public defender.
“Charging a $50 registration fee to obtain a public defender undermines the constitutionally-protected right to an attorney,” said Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas said. “This motion will ensure that economic status does not prevent an accused from receiving proper legal representation.”
Supervisor Kuehl added, “Imagine you’re an indigent defendant and the first thing your ‘free’ government lawyer does is hand you a form that requires you to pay $50 within five days!”
“We want to be sure that low-income defendants who are eligible for legal counsel from the Public Defender’s office can actually get the services of that legal counsel,” she said. “That is their constitutional right.”
Assistant Public Defender Candis Glover said the Public Defender’s Office is in favor of doing away with the fee, which is usually discussed with the client for the first time during arraignment. “We believe that discussing registration fees with a client you just met, when you’re trying to gain that client’s trust, and you’re trying to identify legal issues connected with the case, are barriers to our representation,” she told the Board.
Los Angeles County has “requested” that defendants pay the registration fee since 1996, to offset the cost of providing court-appointed counsel. It is estimated that the Public Defender’s office will collect approximately $300,000 in such fees for this fiscal year. Defendants who don’t pay are referred to a private for-profit collections agency to recoup uncollected registration fees.