(BCN) — Santa Cruz County residents criminally charged and in need of a lawyer can now seek public defense services, as the county opened its first Public Defender’s Office on Friday.

With a $12 million annual budget and 57 staff members, the office will offer a full range of defense services for those with little income. The effort is led by Public Defender Heather Rogers.

“We’re on a mission to elevate public defense, one client at a time,” Rogers said in a statement. “We will provide community-based, whole-person defense that is equitable, effective and fair.”

Rogers is backed by a staff of defense lawyers and experts that specialize in record clearance, immigration and legal writing and social workers.

Veteran public defenders Jonathan Cruz of Los Angeles County and Mandy Tovar of Santa Cruz County, as well as experienced administrator Adam Spickler will also join the team.

The office is still seeking out a chief investigator and director of holistic defense.

The private firm of Biggam, Christiansen and Minsloff previously provided indigent defense for the county since 1975. As the firm transitions into a larger, public firm for the county, the new office hopes to “provide accountability” and meet national caseload standards with more staff, reads a press release.

The office will provide “Meet the Public Defender” events in north and south Santa Cruz County once a month. More information can be found at https://santacruzdefenders.us/.

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