Loren I. Mandel, a veteran defense attorney, has been named to take over San Diego County’s newest in-house legal department, the conflict public defender’s office, which will handle the bulk of those cases in which the public defender’s office has a conflict of interest.
Mandel, 48, most recently the public defender of San Joaquin County, officially began work Monday at the new office, which is scheduled to grow into a 25-lawyer agency by early 1991.
The new agency is the first of its kind in California. Its creation five months ago marked the first time a county has opted to create a separate staff of in-house lawyers to handle those cases in which a county-staffed public defender has a conflict of interest, Mandel said Thursday.
County supervisors formed the new office with the aim of replacing the costly existing system, which farms out the so-called “conflicts” cases to members of the private bar, who are paid an hourly rate. Originally budgeted for $2.3 million in fiscal 1990, the revised cost of that plan last fiscal year reached $14 million--a 609% increase.
In creating the new office, supervisors also significantly expanded the number of current public defenders at Juvenile Court, where increasing filings--especially drug-related cases in which the county seeks custody of a child it contends has been abused or neglected--have threatened to swamp lawyers and judges.
Mandel said he is sure the new office will save money, much like the public defender’s office itself--which was created in 1988 to replace a patchwork system of services provided by a small staff of Civil Service lawyers and about 400 private attorneys--because both rely on fixed lawyer salaries to provide fiscal predictability.
“I’m really excited because I’m convinced that, if I am allowed to hire quality lawyers, lawyers who know how to deal with criminal cases, the obvious result will be tremendous cost savings to the county, without question,” said Mandel, who, working without a desk, was shuffling budget documents Thursday on the floor of his office.
Although the new agency is likely to mean less work initially for the 350 San Diego-area lawyers in private practice who now are assigned conflicts cases, the private bar is not without hope, said Barton C. Sheela III, president of the Criminal Defense Bar Assn., a 200-lawyer group.
“Actually, possibly, in the future this may create more cases,” Sheela said. “In the future, the conflicts office may create its own conflicts.”
Most conflicts cases involve multiple defendants or, in Juvenile Court, any number of relatives, all of whom may be entitled under the U.S. Constitution to a free lawyer.
By replacing private attorneys with salaried county lawyers, county budget planners project, $7 million will be saved annually beginning in fiscal year 1992. Private lawyers will, however, continue to receive some assignments and will keep those cases already assigned.
Current budget projections for fiscal year 1991 call for the conflict public defender, with 25 attorneys and a total staff of 44, to cost $1.45 million in its initial half-year of operation, Mandel said.
One of the 25 attorneys will serve as Mandel’s assistant. Of the others, 10 will handle criminal cases at the downtown County Courthouse, and 10 more will be stationed at Juvenile Court, Mandel said. Two staff lawyers will be stationed in Vista and one apiece in El Cajon and Chula Vista.
The deputies will earn $36,004 to $79,976 annually, Mandel said. Under the existing system, private lawyers are paid $25 to $75 an hour.
Mandel, who will earn $100,600 annually, was tabbed for the post after beating out about 70 applicants and eight other finalists, said attorney Robert Grimes, a San Diego lawyer involved in the selection process.
Mandel served as San Joaquin County’s public defender for about 16 months, from July, 1989, until earlier this month. He supervised a staff of 70 employees, 44 of whom were lawyers.
Before taking over the top job in Stockton, he spent nearly 23 years with the Los Angeles County public defender’s office. Beginning as a trial deputy in 1966, he tried death penalty cases, then became a department manager and supervised offices in Compton and Long Beach.
Mandel, who is originally from Los Angeles, is a 1963 graduate of UCLA and a 1966 graduate of UCLA’s law school.
He and his wife, Pamela, have two daughters, Lisa, 23, and Jennifer, 19, both college students.