OC Detective Calls For County Supervisors to Dismantle Alternate Defense Services

Categories: Court, Main
Matthew Laznicka
Remember CJ Ford?

He was the private investigator who I profiled in my March 2010 story, "Bad Detective." Ford isn't the bad detective in question, though. That honor went to Joseph Szeles, who does detective work for low-income inmates being housed in the county jail who choose to represent themselves at trial and are entitled to taxpayer-funded private eye work. As my story revealed, the county agency that appoints detectives to such cases, Alternate Defense Services, somehow figured that Szeles should get all the work.

So much so that, during 2008 and 2009, Szeles handled 98 cases for ADS--roughly the rate of one new client per week, a tremendous case load for a single investigator. And although ADS is supposed to allow any qualified investigator to apply to join its panel, Ford and others found the agency unwilling to let them apply to win cases, and requests by inmates who weren't happy with the overburdened Szeles' efforts were told by judges they couldn't have him taken off their cases and replaced with Ford.

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Sadly, in the two years since that story ran, nothing has changed. Despite the fact that state law is clear that judges cannot interfere in the appointment of investigators to pro-per defendants, and that the process must be transparent and fair, Orange County's ADS continues to run things its own way. Now, Ford is asking members of the public to sign a petition demanding that the county Board of Supervisors step in and either dismantle ADS or force the agency to comply with the Indigent Defense Service Delivery Systems (IDSDS) guidelines, which prohibit judicial interference with pro-per defense matters, including the appointment of investigators.

Here are the three main demands laid out in Ford's Petition:

1. Comply with the policy set by the State Bar Of California Guidelines On Indigent Defense Services Delivery Systems. Create a defense base panel as outlined in the IDSDS; removing the judges from the middle of the indigent pro per defendants case.

 2. Comply with the Sunshine Laws. Make policies, organization structure, procedures, accounting and meeting schedules available for disclosure to the general public and the media. 

3. Comply with the Anti-Trust Laws. Create an open and fair procedure for procurement of government contracts for investigators and experts, and provide a list of  contractors for viewing by the public and pro per defendants.

Here's a link to Ford's petition on the Change.org website. If you think Orange County should bring its justice system into synch with the rest of the country, read it for yourself and sign it.

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