The Contra Costa Times reports (http://bit.ly/12U98HY) the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on Dec. 21.
Christopher Martin, one of two attorneys who filed the suit, says that in-custody defendants are left in jail without representation for five-to-13 days after first appearing before a judge.
Martin says without an attorney at their first appearance, criminal defendants cannot enter a plea, or ask for lower bail.
Public Defender Robin Lipetzky would not comment on the suit, but has long advocated for more attorneys to help ease the office's heavy caseload.
The suit could result in a minimum $4,000 fine for each defendant whose rights were violated.
Information from: Contra Costa Times, http://www.contracostatimes.com