January 2011 • Vol. 31 No. 1 | An E-Publication of the Los Angeles County Bar Association

Spotlight on Indigent Criminal Defense Appointments Program

Experienced attorneys providing quality representation and expediency in handling short-notice cases and special assignments for the courts

LACBA’s Indigent Criminal Defense Appointments Program provides private attorneys to represent indigent criminal defendants in all of the Los Angeles County courts when the public defender and the alternate public defender are unavailable or have a conflict.

LACBA began operating the ICDA program for the Central District of Los Angeles County in January 1986. In 1994, in accordance with Penal Code Section 987.2(d), the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors approved a countywide contract expanding ICDA.

Today, nearly 330 panel attorneys handle all countywide indigent criminal defense appointments on misdemeanor and felony cases. During the past year alone, ICDA attorneys handled more than 15,000 cases. “Duty day” attorneys are also scheduled daily in more than 20 courts around the county to handle conflicts, arraignments, probation violations, bench warrant pickups, and any other matters requiring attorney representation.

“The program is designed to allow the courts to run more efficiently by having attorneys available on site every day, saving court time and freeing the judges to focus on court business,” says ICDA Executive Director Ezekiel Perlo.

The program continues to see a significant increase in the request for standby counsel, which the public defender and alternate public defender will not handle. Additionally, the program currently provides and supervises a panel of attorneys for the sexually violent predator cases processed by the Los Angeles Superior Court Mental Health Department.

Classification of attorneys and cases. Membership in ICDA is open to all lawyers who meet the qualification standards. Attorneys are classified into six grades and assigned cases in their grade and the next lower grade as well:

Misdemeanors: All misdemeanors and traffic violations.

Grade I cases have possible sentences of up to four years and include Vehicle Code and Business & Professional Code felony filings and low-level felony filings such as Penal Code Secs. 245(a)(1), 459, 496, or Health & Safety Code Secs. 11350 and 11351.

Grade II cases have possible sentences of up to 10 years and include violations of Penal Code Secs. 182 (to commit a Grade I case), 211, 245(a)(2), 451(c), 459(first degree), Health & Safety Code Secs. 11351.5, 11352, 11353, 11361, 11378.5, and 11379.5.

Grade III cases have possible sentences of up to 24 years and include conspiracy to commit Grade II or Grade III offenses, charges with multiple counts or sentence enhancements, and second-strike cases.

Grade IV cases include possible sentences of more than five years, all life cases, and violations of Penal Code Secs. 187 (noncapital), 207, 209, 261, 288, or 289, and third-strike cases. The court also appoints Grade IV attorneys on more complex fraud crimes involving protracted litigation.

Grade V cases are Penal Code Sec. 187 (murder) with special circumstances in which the death penalty is sought. This panel of attorneys is selected by the judges of the Los Angeles Superior Court and assigned through the Capital Case Panel rotation.

Program attorneys are assigned cases on a rotational basis and matched with cases that lie within their grade level and the skills and experience required. Attorneys handle their assigned cases to completion and submit bills for payment to the Los Angeles County Superior Court. 

ICDA plays an important role in helping the courts maintain the high standards expected of the appointed attorneys. The program will be notified if an attorney commits one or more of the following:

• Demonstrates a lack of competence or inability.
• Fails to appear for a court appearance, including the initial calendared arraignment date.
• Accepts a court appointment for a case above the attorney's grade.
• Engages in conduct the court deems inappropriate.
• Submits improper or excessive billing charges.

Violations of the above-mentioned rules are grounds for suspension and/or termination from the ICDA program. In addition, an attorney who has been suspended, disbarred, or has resigned from the State Bar of California will automatically be removed from the ICDA program.

“The courts have primary responsibility for the appointment of attorneys," says Perlo. "ICDA works with the courts to provide attorneys that are qualified and competent, and provides mechanisms to insure that the lawyers appointed by the courts meet those standards.”

Special assignments. Over the years, ICDA has been called upon to handle special assignments for the court. Following the 1992 civil unrest in Los Angeles, 150 panel attorneys provided 700 hours of pro bono arraignment services to help the court clear 1,200 riot-related cases; ICDA attorneys handled close to 530 arraignments during a one-week span by virtually working around the clock. Similarly, during the Democratic National Convention in 2000, ICDA attorneys volunteered to staff the arraignment courts to handle demonstration-related cases.

Governance. Directing Attorney Ezekiel Perlo has headed the program since 2008. Perlo has practiced law for more than 40 years and supervised a group of attorneys while serving in the Los Angeles Public Defender’s Office. As directing attorney, Perlo supervises a five-member staff and oversees qualifications, discipline, financial audits, training, and referral procedures for the program. He works with ICDA’s Executive Committee, comprised of ICDA members and superior court judges, that assists in the day-to-day workings of the program and policies. The Billing and Discipline Committee and the Qualifications Committee round out the governing process. 

Perlo concludes, “The ICDA staff works tirelessly to make the program function well, and the governing committees, composed of volunteer attorney-members, provide outstanding support and counsel. It is through their efforts that ICDA has been able to achieve the success that it has in providing quality and efficient representation. I believe ICDA is highly regarded and respected throughout the Los Angeles County criminal court system.”

Housed within LACBA’s offices, the ICDA directing attorney and administrative staff can be reached at (213) 896-6437.

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