LA County Board of Supervisors Approves Motion to Waive Citizenship Requirements for Employment

This historic shift, made possible by the Board, enables the Public Defender to expand their potential hiring pool

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | The South Pasadenan News | Los Angeles City Hall

MEDIA RELEASE

In a historic decision, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approves a Motion by Supervisors Solis and Kuehl to end an employee citizenship requirement for providing critical public services to LA County residents and businesses.

On August 10, 2021, the Board of Supervisors approved a historic and progressive motion to eliminate the County of Los Angeles’ long-standing citizenship requirement for its Department Heads while also giving each Department Head the authority to waive such requirements for positions within their respective departments, including Deputy Public Defenders.

Throughout 107 years of indigent defense within the County of Los Angeles, the Public Defender has been prevented from hiring attorneys because of citizenship and voting-registration requirements, even though immigrant communities comprise one-third of the County’s population. With a forward-thinking Board, Public Defender Ricardo Garcia has advocated for waiving citizenship and voting-registration requirements as a condition of employment with Los Angeles County. “It is time to rethink prior restrictions that do not reflect the identity of our County. Supervisor Solis and Supervisor Kuehl heard our calls and this motion is a historic milestone that will benefit our communities” Mr. Garcia indicated.

The County of Los Angeles was first in the nation to incorporate an indigent defense department. The duties of the Los Angeles Public Defender have since been expanded considerably by Sec. 27706 of the Government Code, which in 1965 changed the charter of the department to ensure that a Public Defender defend all persons who are not financially able to employ counsel and who are charged, in the Superior Court, with the commission of any contempt, misdemeanor, felony or other offense.

In the past five decades, the role of the Public Defender has continued to expand exponentially to include advocating in the arenas of Mental Health, Immigration, Diversion and Reentry, post-conviction and re-entry, homeless outreach, and many other forms of holistic representation.

The critical public service and justice role the Public Defender plays in the lives of LA County’s indigent defendants makes it essential that the hiring process allows for onboarding the best and most diverse candidates. Non-citizen attorneys with diverse backgrounds, specialized training, and a license to practice law from the California State Bar are currently removed from the pool of eligible candidates, even though moral character determinations are made by the State Bar.

This historic shift, made possible by the Board, enables the Public Defender to expand their potential hiring pool, increasing the number of talented and diverse applicants to select from, which will not only enhance our legal representation services, but will accurately reflect the County’s values of inclusivity and diversity.