San Luis Obispo County public defender's office out of funds

The cost of the trial involving hard-money lenders Karen Guth and Joshua Yaguda, as well as other unexpected expenses, have forced an overrun of more than $500,000 in the public defender’s budget, an amount the Board of Supervisors is being asked to cover.

There is only $50 left unspoken for in the defender’s $5 million budget, Leslie A. Brown of the county Administrative Office wrote in a staff report that supervisors will discuss Tuesday. They are being asked to take $512,000 from their contingency funds.

“The county is unable to pay some bills submitted and will not be able to pay additional bills … without an increase in appropriations,” Brown wrote.

Guth and her son Yaguda were sentenced to prison for defrauding investors as the principals in the Estate Financial scandal. They pleaded guilty to more than 25 felony counts.

Because their assets were frozen, court-appointed attorneys represented them, at an estimated cost of $300,000. The county is legally on the hook for those contracted costs.

The Guth-Yaguda case was not the only trial that caught the county off-guard.

“Several costs have come in higher this year,” Brown wrote, including payments to expert witnesses and investigators. “There have been more multidefendant cases and cases requiring complex analysis and investigation than in recent years.”

The increased expenses followed a decision last year to cut the 2009-10 public defender’s budget for court-appointed attorneys and jury and witness expenses by $470,000.

“Each year there (is) a mix of cases that require various expert witnesses — some years the cost is comparatively low and other years they are higher,” Brown wrote in an e-mail to The Tribune.

“We made cuts to the fiscal year 2009-10 budget based on what we saw the last few years — this year there is a different mix of cases,” she wrote.

The request for more funds comes as the county enters the third year of what it mordantly describes as a “Five-Year Pain Plan.” It faces an estimated 2010-11 budget deficit of $19 million.

Approving the expenditure requires a four-fifths vote of the Board of Supervisors.