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Los Angeles County Pays Prisoner $42,500 for Legal Malpractice by Public Defender

by John E. Dannenberg

The County of Los Angeles paid $42,500 to settle a legal malpractice claim brought by a prisoner who suffered state prison plus felony disenfranchisement upon an unlawful conviction.

In October 1992, Jose Castro, represented by the Public Defender, pled guilty to statutory rape (California Penal Code § 261.5), a misdemeanor, for which he did one year in county jail plus three years probation. He was also ordered to register as a sex offender (Penal Code § 290), although the court failed to state on the record the necessary findings to support such a requirement.

In November 2001, Castro was charged with failing to so register, a felony. Again represented by the Public Defender, Castro pled guilty and received 16 months state prison time; he was released onto parole after eight months. Only then did he learn that his original conviction (§ 261.5) was not automatically a registrable offense, and that the original court had not made the requisite findings. Therefore, his conviction for failing to register was unlawfully obtained. He sued for severe emotional distress plus the loss of his opportunity to become a U.S. citizen (barred by his § 290 felony conviction).

Estimating a liability exposure at trial of $175,000, the County settled for a total of $42,500. It is not known if Castro's wrongful felony conviction and bar to citizenship is being abated. See: Castro v. County of Los Angeles, Long Beach Superior Court, Case No. NC 034931.

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Related legal case

Castro v. County of Los Angeles