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County renews public defender contracts worth $4.5 million annually 

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors awarded four local law firms contracts to provide public defender services. The firm of Maguire and Ashbaugh received a four-year contract and will be paid $3,286,838 for the first year. J. Barry Schiavo will receive $595,920 a year to handle cases in which the primary public defender has a conflict of interest. In cases where both firms have a conflict of interest, Jere N. Sullivan, Jr. will step up for $318,405. A fourth firm, Adams and Lucero, will receive $255,605 to represent mentally disordered defenders from Atascadero State Hospital. The amounts will be adjusted in succeeding years with regard to the Consumer Price Index.

San Luis Obispo is one of more than 20 counties in California that contract out for public defender services.

The county was forced to add $500,000 to last year’s public defender budget due to a judge ordering the county to pick up the tab for the defense of hard moneylenders Karen Guth and Joshua Yaguda. The defendants’ bank accounts were frozen by the judge in the case in the hope of recovering money for the victims. The cost of expert witnesses drove up the cost of the trial, said Vincent Morici, a county administrative analyst.

“It’s been a good financial endeavor for the county,” said Patricia Ashbaugh, whose firm the county has contracted for public defender services since 1980.

Public defenders handle around 11,000 a cases a year, according to staff reports.

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