San Benito County seeking feedback on its public defenders

Survey deadline extended to Dec. 1.

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors at their Nov. 17 meeting extended a public survey to aid in evaluating its public defenders until Dec. 1. The county is contracted with three public defenders: Arthur Cantu, Harry Damkar, and Gregory LaForge.

Though the survey has been available since October, County Counsel Barbara Thomspon said a low number of responses prompted the extension past the original Nov. 13 deadline.

At the meeting, resident Elia Salinas questioned why the survey was not advertised to residents and only given to those who are incarcerated.

“We have 10 years of people having used these public defenders,” Salinas said, adding that she found out about it on Nov. 16 and shared it on social media. 

The survey is available on the county website, but is not on the home page. It’s located within the “Quicklinks” section under the “About Us” tab at the top of the page.

Cantu told supervisors that it was discussed how best to get feedback on the services he provides because those who are in custody have a “whole host of competing interests when responding.”

According to the meeting agenda packet, the county has worked with Cantu for the last seven years, and Damkar and LaForge for the last 10 years. On Sept. 22, supervisors extended the three contracts through February 2021. County staff originally recommended extending the contracts for a year at a cost of $643,000. 

Thompson told BenitoLink their salary will stay the same on a pro-rated, monthly basis. 

Cantu suggested sending an alternative survey to those who work with public defenders, such as District Attorney Candice Hooper and her staff, as well as the probation department and county counsel’s office.

“That would give you a professional response with people that are in the industry that are well aware, including the judges,” Cantu said.

In addition to approving the extension, supervisors unanimously gave authority to County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa to extend one or more of the public defenders’ contracts by two more months to ensure the county is ready to award a new contract through a request for proposals process, in which interested contractors submit bids to the county.


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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is BenitoLink Co-Editor and Content Manager. He joined BenitoLink as reporter intern and was soon brought on staff as a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is a USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.