It’s the Fox Guarding the Henhouse
This is how Humboldt County defense attorney named Jeff Schwarz reacted to who was making the recommendation to the County Board of Supervisors on who to hire as chief public defender there. The panel consisted of District Attorney Maggie Fleming, Undersheriff William Honsal, Probation Chief Bill Damiano and representatives from Child Welfare Services and the county Department of Health and Human Services. The article can be found here: http://www.northcoastjournal.com/NewsBlog/archives/2017/02/08/why-some-feel-humco-stacked-the-deck-for-the-prosecution-in-the-public-defender-hiring.
It is beyond question that the hiring decision was made up of people that are neither impartial nor disinterested. The District Attorney, the Sheriffs Office, the head of Probation, Child Welfare Services and Health and Human Services all are part of the criminal justice system that is supposed to be adversarial.
Principle 1 of the National Indigent Defense Standards authored by the American Bar Association and often cited by courts and legislators throughout the land require that the public defender be independent. Frequently the pubic defender is required to test the credibility of law enforcement and to aggressively argue and litigate issues affecting people’s lives and liberty against the district attorney and law enforcement and the probation office. For the public defender to owe his or her job to a hiring committee made up entirely of the officials listed in the above article is the very opposite of independence. If the public believes that the system of providing advocates for the poor is controlled by the very people who make the arrest and charging decisions, it can not rationally be argued that we are providing liberty and justice for all.
Members of the Humboldt County Bar and the very independent and effective former head of the public Defender office, Kevin Robinson, have remarked about the improper influence that courtroom adversaries played in the hiring decision. They are certainly correct.
Nobody would seriously suggest the public defender should decide who the prosecutor is or who the sheriff is or who heads probation or who heads the offices of Child Welfare Services or Health and Human Services.
The hiring committee should have been made up the Board of Supervisors with the advice of the local bar, not cops and prosecutors. The public defender represents people who cannot afford to be represented by the lawyer of their choice when they are facing incarceration that is being urged by prosecution, law enforcement, probation, and others. Just as we want those offices to be fair and zealous and independent, we must require the same qualities from the public defender. That is not possible if the public defender owes his soul to the company store. The Sixth Amendment of our Bill of Rights in our Constitution demands no less.