MODESTO — Riverbank City Councilman Jesse James White, who is accused of drunken driving and hit-and-run, informed the court Friday that he no longer can afford to retain his privately hired criminal defense attorney.
The councilman is asking the judge to appoint his attorney, Mary Lynn Belsher, to represent him in his upcoming trial, which means taxpayers would pay for his privately hired attorney.
Typically, the court would appoint the county public defender's office to represent a defendant who could no longer afford to pay an attorney.
White appeared for an arraignment hearing Friday morning in Stanislaus County Superior Court. Investigators say he crashed his Corvette in Oakdale in February and ran away, leaving his injured 4-year-old son in the car.
Judge Dawna Reeves last month determined there was enough evidence and ruled that White must stand trial. The councilman faces three felony charges: driving under the influence causing injury, DUI with a blood alcohol content of 0.24 percent causing injury and child endangerment.
A blood alcohol content of 0.24 percent is three times the legal limit.
White also has been charged with three misdemeanor counts: hit-and-run causing injury, hit-and-run causing property damage and resisting an officer.
He was supposed to enter a plea Friday, but the court could not proceed with White's arraignment. The issue of who will represent him in his trial will have to be settled first.
Belsher told the judge it would be best for the court to appoint her as White's attorney because the trial could proceed in a timely manner. Belsher represented him in his preliminary hearing.
She said she knows the case well, and a public defender would need a lot of time to get up to speed before the court could move to trial.
Reeves said appointing a private attorney is not the normal procedure, and she was not prepared to make a decision Friday. "I need to think about it," Reeves said.
Belsher told the judge she was not aware of White's inability to retain her until recently, so she understood that the judge would need time to make a decision. Belsher also said she will file a motion, formally requesting that she be appointed as defense counsel in the case.
Reeves scheduled White and Belsher to return to court Oct. 4 for a decision on the matter. White remains free on bail as he awaits his trial.
In the August preliminary hearing, witnesses testified that they saw saw White's Corvette hit the rear of a Ford F-250 pickup on F Street in Oakdale on Feb. 20.
His son was in the car and suffered a bloody nose. White left him in the car when he tried to leave, police have said.
The embattled one-term councilman is not running for re-election. White has declined to comment about his decision not to seek another term.