Private lawyers’ costs heavily on California Taxpayers

California taxpayers need to cover higher fees of private lawyers, who are hired by the state as the Attorney General’s Office doesn’t have the staff to handle all of the cases internally. In some instances, the state has employed outside counsel at hourly rates that reach $450 even while most of its in-house lawyers earn less than half that. Rates can be much higher, if the suits require private attorneys having a particular expertise.

Since January 2008, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has signed about $24 million in contracts with private lawyers hired because the Attorney General’s Office says it’s too shorthanded to take the jobs. The corrections department is seeking the additional help despite having about 80 lawyers of its own to handle a gamut of cases, with about a dozen of those assigned to prisoner-filed litigation.

The California Attorney General’s Office, with a team of about 1,000 lawyers, primarily represents state agencies in court. Federal law and various state requirements leave the attorney general no choice but to deal with many cases, including those involving prisoners.

According to the Department of Finance, the Attorney General’s Office supplemented the state’s general fund with nearly $97 million in 2008-09. An additional $40 million could be delivered this fiscal year. However, where the state is losing money, is within the purview of Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.