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ACLU Reaches Historic Settlement on Access to Public Defense with State of California and Fresno County

January 11, 2020

Los Angeles— Under groundbreaking settlement agreements, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Northern California and law firm partners Paul Hastings LLP and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP have taken a considerable step toward ensuring that accused people in California are afforded legal counsel under their Sixth Amendment right, regardless of income or financial status. The ACLU had argued that the Fresno County public defenders’ office was severely limited in its ability to provide competent and effective representation.

 “The crisis in California that led to this lawsuit is not an anomaly. Too many public defenders across the country have to juggle hundreds of cases at once, forcing them to cut corners in the investigation, case preparation, and legal research necessary to ensure that every client benefits from the presumption of innocence and the right to counsel,” said Emma Andersson, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “To ensure that everyone’s constitutional rights are protected, we need robust public defense systems throughout the country. Governor Newsom has taken the important step of moving California in the right direction on this crucial issue.”

Under the terms of the settlement, Governor Newsom has included $4 million dollars in his annual proposed budget for 2020-21 and $3.5 million annually thereafter to expand the mission of the Office of the State Public Defender (OSPD), which currently handles only death penalty appeals. In addition, the settlement also includes $10 million in the Governor’s budget earmarked for the Board of State and Community Corrections, in consultation with OSPD, to administer a program to provide grant funding to local public defense systems. The settlement with Fresno County will also ensure that accused people represented by the Fresno County Public Defender’s Office receive constitutionally adequate legal representation.

“We're proud to have worked together with the legal teams at the ACLU and Morgan, Lewis and Bockius that helped to achieve this settlement. The Governor’s proposal in this settlement is a significant and important step toward the State of California taking responsibility for criminal prosecutions undertaken in its name to ensure that all Californian’s constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel is guaranteed regardless of whether they are rich or poor,” said Paul Hastings partner Stephen Turanchik.

The Paul Hastings team included Stephen Turanchik, associates Nicole Lueddeke, Lily Lysle, Kami LaBerge and Emily Borman, and project specialist Wayne Clark.

The settlement agreements can be found here:

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