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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: I Want To Sue!

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I want to sue the Police Department. Will the Public Defender represent me?

The Public Defender handles only criminal cases. However, the Public Defender is always concerned when any individual has been wrongly convicted of a crime. The Public Defender's Office has created the Public Integrity Assurance Section (PIAS) which is able to represent any person who has been wrongfully convicted of crimes as a result of governmental corruption, and will try to get the criminal conviction set aside and dismissed.

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What involvement does the Public Defender have in correcting miscarriages of justice arising out of police or prosecution misconduct?

Los Angeles County Public Defender attorneys assigned to the Public Integrity Assurance Section (PIAS) review cases involving Los Angeles County Public Defender clients who may have been unjustly convicted because of the actions of corrupt police officers. When attorneys from the Public Integrity Assurance Section learn of these cases, they take appropriate legal action in order to correct these injustices. If you believe that you, or someone you know, was unjustly convicted because of the actions of corrupt police officers, please contact our PIAS Unit at (213) 893-2398.

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District Attorney's Office. Will the Public Defender's Office represent me?

It is perfectly understandable that anyone who has been unjustly prosecuted, might want to sue the District Attorney's Office, however, the Public Defender only handles criminal cases. The Public Defender is always concerned when any individual has been wrongly convicted of any crime. While the Public Defender's Office cannot sue anyone in civil court, the Office has created the Public Integrity Assurance Section (PIAS) which is able to represent any person who has been wrongfully convicted of crimes, and will try to get the criminal conviction set aside and dismissed.

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I was treated unfairly by the judge in my case, and I want to sue the court. Will the Public Defender's Office represent me?

The Public Defender's Office only handles criminal cases in criminal court. The best way to litigate any improper action by a judge is through appellate attorneys who represent clients in the appellate courts. However, an appellate attorney can only successfully appeal your case only if the judge, the District Attorney or even your own defense attorney did something significantly wrong.

A defendant who has been convicted after a trial always have the right to appeal the conviction. This process is initiated by the trial attorney. Your attorney will file a notice of appeal in the trial court on your behalf if you wish to appeal your case. A lawyer who does not work for the Public Defender, and who specializes in appeals, will then be appointed by the Court of Appeal to represent you on appeal. That attorney will be the one who to consider what you can do about any complaints against any judge who you feel treated you badly during your criminal case.

I was treated unfairly in court and I want to sue the jury. Will the Public Defender's Office represent me?

No. Our system of justice gives the power to decide the guilt of every defendant to a jury of 12 people who have been carefully instructed by the judge, the prosecution, and the defense on how to make a fair and just assessment of a defendant's guilt or innocence. Juries cannot be sued; however, in some circumstances, the judge can use his or her discretion to override the decision of the jury if the court finds that the jurors were clearly mistaken or biased in reaching their verdict.

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I am the victim of a crime. Will the Public Defender represent me?

The interests of those who are victims of a crime are usually represented by the prosecutor's office, whose mandate is to see that those who victimize others are punished for their crimes. However, if you are a victim of a miscarriage of justice resulting from false police reports or other police misconduct, the Public Defender will defend you against criminal prosecution. The Public Defender is unable, by law, to pursue any civil case against your accusers. You may be the victim of a crime but are erroneously being prosecuted instead of being recognized as the victim. The Public Defender will defend you on the criminal charges.

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I need a lawyer to help me in a civil case (like divorce, landlord/tenant dispute, debt payment, bankruptcy, child custody, personal injury action). Does the Public Defender handle that type of case?

In general, the Public Defender only represents persons subject to criminal prosecution, civil commitment, or contempt citation. The Public Defender's Office also represents individuals charged in criminal cases resulting from non-payment of child support, or those who are threatened with contempt because of an alleged violation of a civil court order for them to pay child support. Our office also represents those individuals who have been detained civilly because of the Sexually Violent Predator Law. In all other cases, the Public Defender does not represent individuals in civil cases, nor can our Office recommend any particular attorney or law firm.

The State Bar of California provides a certified lawyer referral service. The State Bar is located at 1149 South Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90015-2299, (213) 765-1000, and at 180 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94105-1639, (415) 538-2000. The State Bar's web site is located at http://www.calbar.ca.gov.

The telephone book's Yellow Pages often contain a directory of local bar associations that offer lawyer referral services. Many lawyer referral services do require the payment of a small fee for an initial consultation with a lawyer. For example, the Los Angeles County Bar Association' (LACBA) offers a lawyer referral service and is located at 1055 W. 7th Street, Suite 2700, Los Angeles, CA 90017, (213) 627-2727. LACBA's web site is located at http://www.lacba.org.

For persons unable to afford a lawyer in a civil case, free help from a legal aid society, a nonprofit public interest organization, such as those concerned with civil liberties and housing discrimination, or from a law school "clinic" program may be available.

©2012 Los Angeles County Public Defender's Office. All Rights Reserved.