Public Defender Contracts 3 Attorneys For Prop 47 Cases

The San Bernardino County Public Defender has hired three lawyers with previous criminal defense experience to pursue specialized cases aimed at exonerating or freeing inmates already convicted of felonies which fall under the purview of Proposition 47.
Proposition 47 is a referendum passed by voters in the state of California on November 4, 2014. The measure was also referred to by its supporters as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. It redefined some nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors, rather than felonies, as they had previously been categorized. The measure’s effects were to convert crimes such as drug use and possession as well as property offenses, from felonies to misdemeanors. These offenses include shoplifting, writing bad checks, and drug possession.
Efforts are now underway to apply those definitions retroactively to those who are incarcerated or who are free but have limitations place upon them by virtue of their felony convictions.
According to San Bernardino County Public Defender Phyllis K. Morris, “Prop 47, the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative, was approved by California voters on November 4, 2014. The measure provides for the reduction of certain felony convictions (most related to drug possession) to misdemeanors. Felony convictions limit a person’s full involvement in the community by affecting employment opportunities and the exercise of citizenship activities, such as voting and jury service. As Prop 47 applies to many non-serious felonies there are thousands of residents in need of legal assistance. Existing staff is unable to absorb the workload increase associated with Prop 47 and requires additional support from experienced legal professionals. The deputy public defender position responsibilities in support of the Prop 47 implementation include: preparing and defending cases; conducting legal research and preparing legal documents, briefs and opinions; reviewing client files, recognizing relevant issues and establishing effective working relationships with various members of the criminal justice community. Three contract deputy public defender positions to support implementation of Prop 47 are included in the department’s 2015-16 budget.”
Morris said the two most recently “recommended contracts will be effective November 28, 2015 through June 30, 2018, and may be terminated by either party without cause upon 14 days written notice.”
The public defender’s office advertised the three vacant positions, received applications and interviewed several candidates to assess their criminal law experience, commitment to the department’s mission, and whether each possessed the necessary skills required for the deputy public defender positions. The board approved an employment contract for one of positions on September 15, 2015, hiring Eric McBurney as a deputy public defender III, and agreeing to pay him $245,073 in yearly salary with $110,217 in benefits for a total annual compensation package of $355,290. He went to work on September 16. His contract with the county is to run through June 30, 2018.
McBurney attended the University of Maryland and then went to the University of Iowa School of Law. He has been a member of the California Bar since 2012.
This week, the board approved contracts with Kelton A. Tobler as a public defender IV and Joni L. Sinclair as a public defender III.
Tobler, a graduate of Brigham Young University and the Brigham Young University School of Law, passed the bar in 1991. He will receive a salary of $278,231 and benefits of $52,250. His contract runs through June 30, 2018.
Sinclair will be paid $252,961 in salary and $51,200 in benefits. Her contract likewise sunsets on June 30, 2018. She attended Howard University and Howard University School of Law.
She passed the bar in 1991.
Morris this week spoke with the Sentinel. She said the three attorneys will essentially work full time for the county and be paid on an hourly basis for the duration of the contracts or until the monetary amounts specified in the contracts is or are exhausted. She said her office faces a backlog of scores of thousands of cases that fall under the Proposition 47 rubric.
During their work for the public defender’s office, Morris said, the three newly contracted attorneys will be prohibited from doing any outside criminal defense work because of potential conflicts. Morris acknowledged that the total compensation packages offered under the contracts for the roughly two-and-a-half year lives of McBurney, Tobler and Sinclair’s contracts are probably lower than what they might be able to earn in private practice. She said all three are currently applicants for staff positions as deputy public defenders and that their performance in their various capacities as contract public defenders will provide her with an excellent opportunity to evaluate the quality of their work and suitability for the staff positions.

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