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Frequently Asked Questions

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When did the County resume direct management of the private panel attorney program?
How important is it to limit ancillary services costs to the pre-approved funding limit?
Where can I obtain the OAC Attorney Contract form?
What are the OAC requirements of panel attorneys regarding professional liability insurance?
Why was this new County office named the Office of Assigned Counsel?
Will OAC continue the former PCC practice of reimbursing panel attorneys for SDCBA dues, training expenses, and professional liability insurance costs?
What changes have been made since OAC took over management of the panel atttorney program?
Is it a conflict of interest for OAC to manage the private attorney panel program in view of the fact that OAC staff members are employees of the Public Defender?
What is the OAC policy regarding accepting applications from attorneys to join the panel or to be advanced to a higher classification level within the panel system?

When did the County resume direct management of the private panel attorney program?

 

The County resumed its direct management of the panel attorney program on January 1, 2009, and began assigning all new cases coming out of the court system from that date forward.  The County also took over management of all existing PCC managed capital cases and retained-indigent cases on that date.  PCC continued to manage all other cases already in the system that PCC had assigned to panel attorneys on or before December 31, 2008.  Effective May 1, 2011 the San Diego County Bar Association formally transferred management responsibility to OAC for all remaining open PCC cases.  (Revised: 6/23/11)

How important is it to limit ancillary services costs to the pre-approved funding limit?

 

Very important!  OAC will not pay for ancillary services that are provided before a funding request has been approved and will not pay for costs that exceed the pre-approved amount.  Both OAC panel attorneys and attorneys working on so-called "retained indigent" cases have an obligation to manage their service providers to ensure work is not performed until and unless funding for that work has already been approved.  OAC has no privity of contract with service providers.  Rather, it is the individual attorneys who engage service providers and manager their services.  Attorneys should ideally issue an engagement letter to each of their service providers that informs the provider of the funding limit that has been approved and instructs the provider, as a contractor hired and directed by the attorney, not to perform work beyond what is covered by the pre-approved amount under any circumstances.  Service providers should be instructed to stop their work at or before they hit their funding limit and request additional funding approval if more work appears to be required.  The engagement contract should make it clear to the service provider that work performed in excess of the approved funding level will be deemed to have been provided pro bono.  (Revised: 12/30/11)

Where can I obtain the OAC Attorney Contract form?

 

The OAC Attorney Contract form and the related OAC Rules & Regulations document are both available for viewing and downloading on our OAC Forms page.  A new contract must be signed whenever an attorney is initially admitted to the OAC panel or is elevated to a higher classification within the panel.

What are the OAC requirements of panel attorneys regarding professional liability insurance?

 

All panel attorneys must have professional liability insurance in place to cover them for work on cases OAC will assign to them, and the insurance limits must be at least $250,000/$500,000.  OAC initially asked panel attorneys to have their insurance company add the County of San Diego as an additional insured under the contract, as had been required in the past by the San Diego County Bar Association's former PCC program.  Some, but not all, insurance companies have refused to agree to such requests.  The County has researched this issue and has decided it will not require attorneys to have their insurance carrier add the County of San Diego as an additional insured.  Panel attorneys must still provide OAC with verification of their professional liability insurance coverage and update that proof of insurance each year.

Why was this new County office named the Office of Assigned Counsel?

 

The County selected the name "Office of Assigned Counsel" for the new office based on the terminology used in the State Bar of California's Proposed Guidelines on Indigent Defense Services Delivery Systems (2005-2006).  Such offices are referred to in those guidelines as "Assigned Counsel" offices, so the County determined that was an appropriate name for its new office exercising these responsibilities.

Will OAC continue the former PCC practice of reimbursing panel attorneys for SDCBA dues, training expenses, and professional liability insurance costs?

 

No, OAC does not have any budget for reimbursement of such expenses; and the County did not previously provide reimbursement for such expenses when it directly managed the private attorney panel program prior to fiscal year 1996-97.  On the other hand, OAC does not charge panel attorneys any fee for participating in the panel program and does not require panel members to be members of the San Diego County Bar Association.  OAC has also initiated procedures to provide OAC panel attorneys with easier access to the extensive training resources of the Primary Public Defender and Alternate Public Defender offices and with access to the Primary Public Defender's comprehensive client "dress out" clothing service.

What changes have been made since OAC took over management of the panel atttorney program?

 

OAC began by creating this website to provide easier access to information about the County's panel attorney program.  Over time the OAC website has gradually been expanded and improved to provide hundreds of resources to assist OAC panel attorneys and criminal defense attorneys such as links to numerous legal research websites and useful case forms and publications.

OAC streamlined the processing for seeking funding approval of ancillary service requests (ASRs) by introducing new electronic forms to assist panel attorneys in submitting such requests to OAC staff electronically by e-mail rather than by using hard copy forms.  Such forms were often handwritten and mailed conventionally or hand-delivered to the former PCC panel program office.  OAC panel attorneys now submit their ancillary service funding requests and justifications to OAC using the revised OAC form and to deliver that form to OAC as an e-mail attachment to facilitate expedited processing by OAC staff.

OAC also modernized the format of the ancillary service request form to facilitate prompt consideration and approval of such requests by providing a more detailed and structured presentation of the justification information required for the proper evaluation of these requests for their reasonableness and necessity.

OAC revised all the old PCC attorney billing forms and made those forms available in electronic format on the OAC website.  OAC billing forms may be completed and saved on the computer, but they must still be submitted for payment as an original hand-signed document.  Please do not fax or e-mail duplicate billings once the original bill has been sent to OAC as this may delay processing and payment.

In January and February of 2011 OAC introduced a variety of revised program documents including a new OAC Panel Attorney Fee Schedule that provided approximately 200 new or increased attorney fees.  The revised fee schedule now also covers all categories of appointed cases assigned by OAC, including capital offenses.

  (Revised: 6/23/11)

Is it a conflict of interest for OAC to manage the private attorney panel program in view of the fact that OAC staff members are employees of the Public Defender?

 

No, the operation of the OAC panel attorney program does not present any valid conflict of interest problem.  While OAC is a division of the County’s Department of the Public Defender rather than a separate County department, OAC functions with complete independence as an ethically separate or “glass-walled” office in all matters related to operation of the private attorney panel program.  To facilitate this ethical and functional independence OAC operates out of its own office suite that is physically separate from the offices maintained by the other divisions of the Department of the Public Defender.  Other employees of the Department of the Public Defender who are not part of OAC's staff do not have access to OAC’s work areas unless they are escorted by OAC staff, nor do they have the keys or security codes necessary to enter OAC work areas.  The Public Defender does not have any role in assigning cases to the private panel attorneys or in the consideration of attorney fee requests or ancillary service funding requests from private attorneys.

The concept of using glass-walled or ethically separate public law offices as a valid means to avoid conflict of interest problems in legal cases has been around for a long time and is extremely well supported by California case law.  For more information about this issue, please review the unanimously decided cases of Castro v. Los Angeles County Bd. of Supervisors (1991) 232 Cal.App.3d 1432 (Castro); People v. Christian (1996) 41 Cal.App.4th 986 (Christian); and In re Charlisse C. (Oct. 30, 2008) 45 Cal.4th 145 (Docket # S152822) (Charlisse).  The significance of the more recent In re Charlesse C. case is that it is a California Supreme Court case that cites and fully approves the two earlier California Court of Appeal cases (Castro and Christian).  As indicated above, all three of these California appellate court decisions were unanimous, so there is no lack of clarity in California law on this issue.  Thirteen justices have all agreed on this issue without a single dissenter.

OAC rigorously complies with the guidelines set forth in these appellate court cases to ensure the confidentiality of information on the cases it assigns.  OAC provides only general statistical information about its operation to other County offices, and that information is not case specific and does not provide any narrative information about cases or funding requests.  Any concerns that may be raised regarding potential conflict of interest problems stemming from OAC's management of the indigent panel attorney program are unfounded and without legal support.  Anyone who may have continuing legal concerns should take the time to actually read the case law cited above for themselves and check out OAC's physically very separate and independent office.  (Revised 12/30/11)

What is the OAC policy regarding accepting applications from attorneys to join the panel or to be advanced to a higher classification level within the panel system?

 

The basic OAC panel application form is available on the Forms page on this website.  OAC began accepting new panel applications on Friday, January 2, 2009.

As of 5/25/10, OAC stopped accepting new applications from attorneys for admission to the OAC panel program in view of a general decline we have experienced in the volume of cases being received for assignment through the OAC panel attorney program.  This decline in case volume is due at least in part to San Diego's continuing decline in reported crime.  OAC, however, continues to accept applications for elevation to a higher classification from existing OAC panel members.  OAC will continue to use screening committees composed of local criminal defense attorneys and judges to assist in evaluating attorney applications for admission or elevation but may also provisionally approve applications for admission or elevation pending screening committee meetings, particularly panel attorneys applying at the lower levels (i.e., Classes I through III).

OAC has also created a new form for attorney requests to serve on the OAC Level VI and VII panels handling LWOP and Capital murder cases.  Panel attorneys interested in receiving future assignments to handle Class VI or VII cases are required to submit this new form and be formally admitted to these OAC panels in order to be eligible for such assignments.  (Revised: 6/23/11)