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Cost of Legal Service Increases by $500,000

A major fraud case and the enactment of “three strikes” legislation mean Ventura County will pay $500,000 more than anticipated to a legal services company this year.

Ventura-based Conflict Defense Associates will receive the money on top of its $1.3-million annual contract because of a rising caseload that is difficult to predict, said Vince Ordonez of the county’s chief administrative office. The company represents indigents accused of crimes that the public defender cannot defend because of legal conflicts.

The Board of Supervisors approved the additional payment at its Tuesday meeting, with Supervisor Susan K. Lacey abstaining because her husband is an attorney with the company.

The company’s caseload has increased almost 70% this year, including a 114% rise in juvenile delinquency cases, Ordonez said. One fraud case will consume about $140,000 of the appropriation, he said. “Three-strikes” legislation, which mandates long sentences for most repeat felons, also means more complex legal cases.

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The amount also includes about $80,000 in expenses incurred the previous fiscal year.

“How did [the legal bill] get to a point where it’s over $500,000?” Supervisor Frank Schillo asked. “Don’t we know sooner whether someone’s over budget by $500,000?”

Despite the county’s monthly review of such legal bills, the charges “crept up,” Ordonez said.

The company’s legal charges have outpaced its allocated budget for several years, he said.

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But supervisors want more accountability.

“Something is going to have to be done to get a more realistic handle on this,” Supervisor Judy Mikels said.

A consultant has been hired for about $3,000 to review the county’s contracting method, Ordonez said.


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