Thursday, May 12, 2005

People v. Akins (Cal. Ct. App. - May 4, 2005)

Here's a stellar use of prosecutorial resources.

Akins is convicted of welfare fraud based upon her failure to disclose certain disability income and is sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to pay restitution for the amount she was overpaid. The district attorney thinks she should pay $10,158, but there's a Court of Appeal case on point (Hudson) that says that the method of calculation used by the district attorney is improper, as it does not apply the 20% earned income deduction to which the defendant would have been entitled had she disclosed this income (basically, because the food stamp program ignores 20% of your income anyway).

So the defendant, relying on Hudson, says that the true restitution amount should be $9,789. To which the district attorney responds that Hudson shouldn't be applied retroactively. Even though that's a totally silly argument, both in general and because that case came down before Akins' plea agreement, not after. And the trial court says so, calling the district attorney's argument "disingenuous" and concluding with this insight: "[O]ur job is to follow the law. And if our County is trying to make money off those convicted of crime more than they're entitled to, then I can't be a part of that and I don't want to be." So orders restitution of $9,789.

So what does the district attorney do? Appeals. Over $369. Over a tiny, insignificant amount of money that they're not going to get in future cases anyway given Hudson. Which prompts the appointment of appellate counsel for the defendant, full briefing (including a reply) and a 14-page opinion. All of this in addition to the compelled appointment of conflict counsel below after the district attorney insisted on the extra $369. And all of this paid for by the state. All over -- let me reiterate -- $369.

Justice Stein affirms, holding that the trial court got it right and that the County of Solano wasn't entitled to its extra $369. Which is both right and, in my mind, beside the point. The appeal should never have been filed in the first place. Which is perhaps -- and I admittedly speculate here -- why the Attorney General's office didn't represent the People of the State of California in this appeal, and instead insisted that the appeal be done (if at all) by the Solano County District Attorney. Who apparently happily did it. For 369 whole dollars.

Money down the toilet. You'd hope that our elected officials would be smarter -- and wiser -- than this. The counsel on the brief: the Solano County District Attorney (David Paulson), his Chief Deputy District Attorney (George Williamson), and Joel Coble (Deputy District Attorney). Great job, guys.