In response to a request from Spectrum Institute arising from our 2021 report on legal defense services in probate conservatorship proceedings, the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury initiated an investigation into such legal services in that county.

The grand jury’s annual report was released today.  A major section of it pertains to conservatorship legal defense services funded by Alameda County. 

The grand jury found major deficiencies in the delivery of legal services by the Alameda County Department of Public Defender.  Several recommendations are made to correct these deficiencies.  One recommendation encourages the Board of Supervisors to consider removing this function from the Department of Public Defender altogether and instead funding a program similar to that operated by the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. 

Spectrum Institute has been studying deficiencies in probate legal defense services, including those in Alameda County, for several years.  We agree with the findings and recommendations of the grand jury. 

  1. Conservatorship legal defense services are underfunded in Alameda County.
  2. The caseload for the one attorney who handles these cases is too high.
  3. Training is inadequate.
  4. Performance standards are lacking.
  5. Monitoring for quality assurance is nonexistent.
  6. Clients are not receiving ADA-compliant legal defense services
  7. There is inadequate contact with clients once a conservatorship petition is granted
  8. Medical and social worker evaluations are seldom requested by the defense attorney
  9. Contested hearings are rare
  10. Supervisors should adopt a Nevada-style legal defense program
  11. Medical and social worker evaluations should be done more frequently
  12. Quality assurance control monitoring should be created and implemented
  13. Regular periodic outreach to adjudicated conservatees should be done by the legal defense agency

We hope that Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, an ongoing champion for conservatorship reform, will take this report to the board and press for implementation of the recommended reforms.

When Spectrum Institute first reached out to grand juries in all 58 counties in California last year, we were pleased when the grand jury in Alameda quickly responded by opening an investigation.  We are now doubly pleased that the report it has released properly identifies problem areas in indigent legal defense services and recommends major reforms to improve such services. 

This report shows the value of the grand jury system, where ordinary citizens take a honest look at local government deficiencies and offer fresh and innovative solutions to entrenched problems that otherwise might be ignored.

A statement made in 2021 by Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods suggests that many of the grand jury’s recommendations, including transferring these defense services to another agency, may already have support.