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Los Angeles County Pays $300,000 To Settle Public Defender's Legal Malpractice

by John E. Dannenberg

On October 4, 2004, the Los Angeles County, California Claims Board granted authority of $300,000 to settle a claim by a prisoner for legal malpractice on the part of the Public Defender, wherein the prisoner had been incompetently advised to plead guilty to a third strike" offense that had been committed before California's Three-Strikes law took effect.
Allen Rose was charged with assault with great bodily injury and making terrorist threats. He pled guilty to the assault charge and was sentenced to twelve years state prison, a term calculated to include enhancement under the second strike consequences of California's Three-Strikes law. That enhancement meant doubling of the underlying term and doing 80% of that time before being paroled.

After approximately eight years, Rose discovered that he had been illegally sentenced under the Three-Strikes law because his crime had been committed prior to its enactment. The habeas corpus petition he filed with the sentencing court was granted and he was released after serving eight years, three months.

In evaluating the County's exposure on Rose's subsequent claim for over-detention of 5 years, 8 months, county counsel advised the Claims Board that they believed the over-detention was no more than one year, four months. Nonetheless, they estimated $1 million in potential damages in a trial for emotional distress. Against this exposure, counsel asked the Board of Supervisors for settlement authority of $300,000, inclusive of Rose's damages, costs and attorney fees. County counsel noted that its own present defense expenses in the temporarily suspended trial were $3,660 in attorney fees and $2,680 in costs.

County counsel summarized the malpractice liability to the Board. The Public Defender's Office acknowledges that the Deputy Public Defenders who handled Rose's case failed to recognize that the Three-Strikes law did not apply." In the Public Defenders Office's resultant Corrective Action Plan, it was noted that the Office had inadequate means to retain records on the 500,000 cases per year it handled, for which records must be retained indefinitely. The Office will seek funds to address such data storage and retrieval as a result of the Rose experience. See: Rose v. County of Los Angeles, Long Beach Superior Court case No. NC 034363.

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Related legal case

Rose v. County of Los Angeles