Public Defender


Mission Statement

To courageously defend the accused. To demand equal justice for all. To empower our clients with inspired advocacy in the courtroom and community. We are on a mission to elevate public defense, one client at a time.

Department Budget Overview

The Office of the Public Defender (PDO) provides constitutionally mandated services for clients that cannot afford representation, including defense of persons accused of crimes or facing involuntary commitments, and representation in specialty courts including Veteran Court, Behavioral Health Court, and Parole Reentry Court. PDO provides holistic defense, including early representation, multidisciplinary defense teams staffed by attorneys, investigators, social workers, and advocates, and seamless access to support services that address the root causes of system involvement. Our team includes bilingual defenders and defenders with lived experience in the criminal legal system who help our teams provide multilingual, multicultural service. We provide vertical defense, early representation, and holistic defense, using an interdisciplinary team defense model that addresses a client’s enmeshed legal and social needs to reach better outcomes. We staff a 24-hour emergency hotline to provide emergency defense to adults seeking counsel for investigative line-ups and juveniles detained for serious crimes. We staff a Help & Assist line for community members who need help navigating the criminal legal system.

In addition to providing courtroom representation to all eligible clients, our Collateral Consequences & Reentry Unit provides record clearance through our Clean Slate Project; post-conviction relief and reentry assistance through Project R.I.S.E. (Reentry, Integration, Support & Education); and advice regarding the true penalties of criminal convictions on immigration, professional licensing, and other issues that impact a client’s ability to overcome system involvement, through our Truth Project. Our Leadership Team is engaged with County, court, and community partners on issues of practice and policy that affect our clients, such as the roll-out of CARE Court and CalAIM, bench warrant reduction, and pre-trial diversion strategies. Our defenders are active in professional associations, committees, and commissions that intersect with our work, including the Criminal Justice Council, Community Corrections Partnership, Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council, Housing for Health Policy Board, Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Commission, Gender & Justice Commission, and many more.

We are leading conversations on racial justice, fair housing, and the impacts of systemic inequities on the criminal legal system. Through hard work and a steadfast commitment to elevating public defense, we have become trusted community partners and developed a reputation locally, regionally, and nationally as public defense leaders. Our work is elevating public defense, advancing equity, and achieving better outcomes for some of our most vulnerable community members.

Budget Summary

Department Budget Overview

Budget Summary of Changes

PDO is nearing the conclusion of its second year of operations. Our initial staffing and budget were based on predictions. In addition to changes in mandates and funding at the state level, the 2024-25 budget is informed by two years of actual expenses and revenue, as well as experience as a County office. Increases in services and supplies reflect the increased cost of utilities and other overhead costs. The PDO budget includes scheduled and negotiated salary and benefit increases and recommends continuing to build capacity to provide constitutionally effective defense.

While the State did not renew funding through the Public Defender Pilot Program, the PDO anticipates $250,000 in revenue through Medi-Cal Administrative Activities (MAA). Staffing changes include converting three formerly contracted Client Advocates to 3.0 full-time equivalent (FTE) Social Workers (I), which is balanced by the MAA revenue and decreasing the services and supplies budget.

Supplemental Budget Summary of Changes

Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act will be implemented in Santa Cruz County on December 1, 2024. The Public Defender will represent CARE Act respondents in CARE Act proceedings. The Supplemental Budget adds 1.0 FTE Senior Social Worker II, 1.0 FTE Atorney II, and 1.0 FTE Department Administrative Analyst as new positions to support CARE Act services. This staffing level assumes a State funding grant of $313,000. Staffing may be altered if the State allocation changes. Additional revenue of $60,000 from Medicaid Administrative Activities (MAA) offsets social work activities related to connecting CARE respondents to MediCal services. CARE Act implementation and other miscellaneous changes require new General Fund support in the amount of $175,000. In addition, the department is requesting $33,000 to enhance the facility's safety measures for benefitting both staff and clients.

Open the Services Overview or Operational Plan Objectives below for more details.

Department Services and Objectives

Total Expenses
7 %
Total Revenues
17 %
General Fund Contribution
6 %
Other Fund Contributions
0 %
Funded Staffing
Service Overview
Operational Plan Objectives
This service supports various department objectives


1 – Indicates change from FY 2021-22 Allowed Budget

2 – General Fund Contribution is the share of General County Revenues (primarily property tax and other local taxes) allocated to each department. Other funds that contribute to this budget are shown on the Budget Details page.

3 – Indicates change from FY 2021-22 Adjusted Funded Positions (including Board-approved mid-year changes as of April 1, 2022).

Budget Details

The charts below show department expenditures and revenues by division and service. Click on the pie charts to drill down for more detail. Complete detail can be found on the County's Transparency Portal.

Expenses by Service

Expenses and Revenues over time

Personnel Details

The chart below provides the department personnel detail by division, service, and classification.