Countywide Legal Defense Contract Awarded To Politically Well-Connected Firm

(March 11) The board of supervisors this week awarded a lucrative county contract for the provision of what is known as conflict representation for indigent defendants in the county’s courts to a firm that was underbid by its competitors on two portions of the contract.
Conflict representation for a defendant without the financial means to hire an attorney to represent him/her comes about when the crime he/she is charged with involves [an]other defendant[s] of likewise modest financial means who is represented by the public defender’s office, which is dedicated to providing a defense to the county’s accused who are without the wherewithal to retain an attorney on their own. In those cases where one or more of the defendants is contending or may contend that he/she is being accused of a crime actually committed by his/her codefendant[s], a separate attorney is needed to prevent one defendant from being exploited by the defense but on by the other defendant.
Whereas previously three separate law firms provided the conflict representation, the county, by its action this week, is allowing a law firm headed by Earl Carter to handle all of the county’s conflict representation.
Through December 31, 2013, four law firms had contracts to serve as conflict attorneys representing defendants in San Bernardino County.  The Law Firm of David Goldstein had a $9.35 million contract to provide conflict attorney representation in the West Valley region of San Bernardino County. The law firm of Carter Spring, Shank & O’Connor,  headed by Earl Carter and Jim Spring, had an $18.75 million contract to represent defendants in the East Valley as well as a $12 million contract to represent defendants in the county’s North Desert Region. Attorney John Burdick had a $1.875 million contract to do conflict representation in the East Desert region.
On September 26, 2013, County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereux approved the solicitation of bids for court-appointed adult indigent defense representation service providers. A proposal evaluation committee consisting of representatives of the county and the Superior Court was formed to review the submitted proposals. When that committee did not arrive on a decision on which firms to extend the conflict representation contracts to by December, the board of supervisors extended the contracts with Carter Spring Shank & O’Connor, the Goldstein Law Firm and attorney John Burdick through March 2014 for $2,450,000, $1,070,000 and $200,000, respectively.
In response to the September 26 bid solicitation, six law firms submitted bid proposals for the work, including Earl Carter’s firm under the name Inland Defenders; Burdick under the name Contract Defenders; Greenline Partners, headed by attorneys Daniel Greenberg and Raj Maline; Robert Ponce; the law firm of Brown, White and Newhouse; and the law firm of  Skipper, Singer & Associates.
The county board of supervisors this week, in the words of County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereux, approved an agreement with Inland Defenders “to provide adult indigent defense services in an amount not to exceed $8,000,000 annually and $20,000,000 total over the 30-month term of April 1, 2014 through September 30, 2016 with two additional one-year options if in the best interest of the county.”
That contract applies to all four of the county’s regions.
Devereux made his recommendation and the board its vote in favor of Inland Defenders despite the consideration that with regard to the contract for representation of the East Valley region, Inland Defenders was substantially underbid by Greenline Partners and with regard to the contract for representation of the North Desert it was underbid by both Greenline Partners and Robert Ponce.
Inland Defenders bid $3,085,680 on the East Valley portion of the project. Greenline bid $2,142,480 on the East Valley portion of the project.
Inland Defenders bid $1,847,880 on the North Desert portion of the contract. Greenline bid $1,347,840 on the North Desert portion of the contract. Ponce bid $1,500,300 on the North Desert portion of the contract.
Devereux’s recommendation was based in large measure by a review done by a team of evaluators consisting of  Superior Court judges Annemarie Pace and John Vander Feer as well as chief assistant county counsel Michelle Blakemore and deputy county counsel Phoebe Chu.
The evaluation committee of Pace, Vander Feer, Blakemore and Chu ranked the competitors using a process by which each firm was eligible to receive up to a maximum of 100 points each measuring the level of service they offered, for a total maximum score of 400 based upon the rankings of all four evaluators.
Inland Defenders scored a rank of 353. Contract Defenders scored 315. Greenline Partners was ranked at 309. The Ponce law firm achieved a 306 ranking. Skipper, Singer and Associates as well as Brown, White & Newhouse scored an identical 240.
In his report to the board of supervisors on the contract agreement this week, Devereux indicated that the bottom-line cost of the service was not a controlling factor in the bid completion. He equivocated somewhat with respect to whether Inland Defenders had qualified as the lowest bidder overall or in relation to portions of the contract.
“Upon receiving the scores, the finance and budget office noted that the cost portion of the
scores were difficult to compare since one proposal was countywide only and the others were countywide and/or for specific regions,” Devereux wrote. “To make an equitable cost score comparison, the finance and budget office ran two scenarios using a formula from the county purchasing department to objectively score the cost portion of each proposal. The first scenario separated each proposal into stand alone regional proposals and scored the cost in each region separately. The second scenario merged the second best scoring proposal in each of the individual regions to form a countywide proposal for comparison to the two countywide proposals. In each scenario, Inland Defenders’ proposal remained the highest scored, both countywide and in the individual regions.”
Participants in the competition as well as others protested that favoritism was shown to Inland Defenders when it was permitted on January 2, 2014 to submit via fax a revised fee schedule, one day before the intent to award was declared. That opportunity to resubmit a key part of its bid was not extended to any of the other competitors.
In his report to the board of supervisors on the contract agreement this week, Devereux gave what appeared to be a justification for allowing Inland Defenders to submit a follow-up bid.  “After confirming Inland Defenders’ proposal as the highest scoring, inclusive of cost, and reviewing the cost proposals from each respondent, the finance and budget office determined that it was in the county’s best interest to negotiate pricing with Inland Defenders as permitted under the request for proposals rather than move forward immediately with a notice of intent to award. Inland Defenders offered a revised cost proposal of $6,724,560, an annual reduction of $437,220.”
Inland Defenders originally offered to handle all four regional contracts annually for $7,161,780. The only other firm that bid on all four regional contracts was Brown, White & Newhouse, which bid  $7,828,020 on the overall contract.
Unaddressed in Devereux’s report are perceptions that were aired during the last two months that Carter and the other attorneys associated with Inland Defenders had bought an advantage in the contract sweepstakes by making hefty campaign contributions to San Bernardino County officials.
Documents on file with the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters’ office and the California Secretary of State’s office show that Earl Carter, together with his recently deceased law partner Jim Spring, and his law firm, Carter, Spring, Shank & O’Connor, donated a total of $120,500 to district attorney Mike Ramos from 2004 until 2012. Additionally, together with his law firm and law partners, Carter has made $88,500 in political donations to all five current county supervisors, including $38,000 to Gary Ovitt, $32,050 to Josie Gonzales, $12,750 to Janice Rutherford, and $1,500 each to both Robert Lovingood and James Ramos.
District attorney Ramos, whose deputy prosecutors are the professional and courtroom adversaries of defense attorneys including those employed by Inland Defenders, intensified this controversy when he wrote a letter of recommendation for Inland Defenders that was submitted to the evaluation committee.
Devereux in his report indicated he and county staff were aware of the controversy over the county’s intention to award the contract to Inland Defenders and that they had discounted the protests that controversy had engendered.
“Subsequent to issuing the notice of  intent to award the contract, the purchasing department  received a number of requests for copies of documents from proposers who were not selected,” Devereux wrote. “To accommodate these requests and allow time for the proposers to prepare an appeal if desired, purchasing extended the appeal period. During the extended appeal period, purchasing received two written appeals from Greenline Partners and Robert Ponce. The appeal requests were reviewed by the purchasing agent and denied, resulting in the recommendation to award all four regions to Inland Defenders, the highest scoring proposer.”

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