San Bernardino County currently sports one of the highest, if not the highest plea bargain rates in the state.
A not so flattering statistic to say the least.
Over the last several years county supervisors have gave additional millions in budget funding to District Attorney Mike Ramos. The result. More plea bargains with criminal defendants.
Several months ago stories ran here and on iePolitics.com exposing substantial political contributions to Ramos by two attorneys who control the San Bernardino County criminal defense conflict panel.
The two attorneys James Spring and Earl Carter have since repackaged themselves. The two have formed the Riverside-based law firm of Carter, Spring, Schank & O’Connor.
Campaign finance records filed by Ramos with the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters show on August 1, 2009 the new firm dropped another $10,000 into the Ramos re-election committee. The recent contribution brings the total that Spring and Carter directed to Ramos to $83,000 since January 1, 2004.
Recent revelations covered by this blog still reverberate within the county legal community.
Sources who have had business dealings with the conflict panel tell of financial difficulties within the group plagued by late payments to employees and contractors. The issues have resulted in threats of going to state labor officials. It is being asserted that the funds from county conflict assignments now subsidize the private practice operations of the law firms involved.
One source also tells of the use of an investigator in the Victorville courthouse who has the primary task of meeting with pre-trial indigent defendants either in or out of custody with a so-called “plea sheet”. The investigator basically suggests to the defendants they should take a plea bargain. The investigator actually works out the plea arrangement and proposed sentence. Remember, this is a non-attorney.
Nearly all defendants agree to the plea arrangements.
The logic behind the process was explained this way. The use of the non-attorney investigator in working out plea deals saves money and only requires an actual panel attorney to spend very little time on each case thereby lowering the ratio of attorney man-hours per case. Since the contract between the conflict panel and the County of San Bernardino pays a flat rate per case, with the exception of complex defenses, there is less attorney time per case, thus more profit.
County prosecutors apparently have no problem with the plea bargain milling of defendants. After all, a conviction is a conviction.
San Bernardino County Public Defender Doreen Boxer is apparently trying to cut back on the number of conflict cases being assigned to the conflict panel due to concerns over quality of representation. Boxer made a proposal to county supervisors in January 2009 to establish a separate alternate defense panel within her department. The structure would mirror that of Los Angeles County and save the county general fund an estimated $750,000 per year.
Riverside County supervisors have just approved the use of alternate-defense panel attorneys on murder cases as a cost savings and quality control measure.
Currently, whenever the Public Defender or the court declares a conflict involving a defendant, the case is farmed out to the conflict panel controlled by Spring and Carter.
The District Attorney lobbied former county administrative officer Mark Uffer and county supervisors against the Public Defender’s plan. County supervisors after one on one meetings with Boxer squelched the idea.
Revelations of a intimate relationship between Ramos and Boxer in 2006 didn’t help matters.
San Bernardino County supervisors have also benefited from the campaign contribution generosity of Spring and Carter, but at no where near the extent of Ramos.
Here is a recap of political contributions by conflict panel attorneys James Spring and Earl Carter.
04/12/2004 Earl Carter $ 2,500.00
04/12/2004 Jim Spring $ 2,500.00
08/11/2004 Jim Spring $ 5,000.00
05/06/2005 Earl Carter $ 5,000.00
05/06/2005 Jim Spring $ 5,000.00
05/23/2005 Earl Carter $ 5,000.00
05/23/2005 Jim Spring $ 5,000.00
07/21/2006 Earl Carter $ 5,000.00
07/21/2005 Jim Spring $ 5,000.00
07/13/2007 Earl Carter $ 7,000.00
07/13/2007 Jim Spring $ 7,000.00
05/27/2008 Jim Spring $ 14,000.00
06/09/2009 Earl Carter $ 5,000.00
06/09/2009 Jim Spring $ 5,000.00 08/01/2009 Carter, Spring, Schank & O'Connor $ 10,000.00
Total $ 83,000.00
InlandPolitics has learned serious questions are being raised and the situation has attracted serious attention.
How many indigent defendant pleas are being engineered before Superior Court Judges for the sole motive of efficiency and profit to conflict panel attorneys and campaign contributions to Ramos?
A practice that may very well have violated the federal civil rights of hundreds if not thousands of convicted defendants and possibly attract the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Sources indicate the numbers could be extreme and raise serious questions related to the potential setting aside of convictions.
Is a scandal developing?
More to follow……….