Quick Guide

  • Cost Per Capita: $21.13
  • State Funding Level: 90% County Funding
    10% State Funding
  • State Independence: No Commission
  • Primary Delivery Model: County-Based System

California provides very little funding and almost no oversight over right to counsel services at all levels: trial and appellate.

At the trial level, each county is responsible for administering and funding the delivery of services. As a result, the county administration or board of supervisors determines how it will provide indigent defense representation.  Most large, urban counties have established a traditional public defender office with full-time attorneys and support staff. These counties employ a range of methods for conflict and tertiary representation in adult criminal and juvenile delinquency matters, some maintaining assigned counsel panels and others flat-fee contracts with private firms, or full-time conflict public defender agencies. Most smaller, rural counties provide services through flat-fee contracts with private firms or with individual attorneys for primary and for conflict services. There is no oversight board for any trial-level system in any California county. With a few notable exceptions, most right to counsel systems are overseen by the county’s legislative board.

The California Administrative Office of the Courts Court-Appointed Counsel (CAC) Program administers the appellate system across the state.  Each year, the CAC Program contracts with large nonprofit law firms to serve as administrators for each appellate district. Services are divided into five regions, closely matching the state’s six appellate districts. An executive director leads each project and a large attorney and support staff. Projects also employ large assigned counsel programs.