John Hardin / @ 8 a.m. / Op-Ed

HARDIN: The County’s New Public Defender


Thadeus Greenson wrote a good piece in last week’s North Coast Journal about the skewed panel assembled to vet candidates hoping to replace Kevin Robinson, who retired recently, as County Public Defender. The panel consisted of the County’s three top law enforcement officers: District Attorney Maggie Fleming, Undersheriff (and soon to be acting Sheriff) William Honsal and Probation Chief, Bill Damiano, as well as two other county bureaucrats. Law enforcement officers clearly dominated the panel. Notably absent from the panel: retired Public Defender Kevin Robinson, or anyone with experience as a defense attorney.

Letting law enforcement officers choose the public defender is like letting a boxer decide who he wants to fight for the big-money title fight. Who would you rather fight, Mike Tyson, or Michael Moore? The Public Defender is a sworn enemy of law enforcement. A good public defender knocks down a DA’s conviction rate. Maggie Fleming campaigned on her conviction rate, and will likely have to do so again. A good public defender exposes lying cops, police corruption and abuse. It is the public defender’s job to make law enforcement look bad, so of course law enforcement wants the weakest possible public defender, which is why they were the wrong people to recommend one.

Several people have now come forward to question, or outright condemn this whole process of allowing County law enforcement to pick the new Public Defender. To placate this controversy, Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell pointed out that, she, along with the rest of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, not the skewed panel, made the decision to hire the guy with the sketchy resume, whose little experience in the field seems clouded by poor judgment and laziness. At least that’s the impression I get of our new public defender, David Marcus, from the dirt Thadeus Greenson was able to dig up on him.

The fact that the Board of Supervisors made the decision to hire Marcus does not make me, nor should it make you, feel any better about it. Clearly, the Board of Supervisors wants a weak public defender. The Board of Supervisors have demonstrated their contempt for justice, civil rights and human rights again and again. They’ve concocted new, unconstitutional, laws to criminalize poverty, and outlaw sleep, and they’ve made harassing the poor and homeless a top priority.

Our current Board of Supervisors works for the greedy cadre of drug dealers and real estate moguls who financed their campaigns. Those people don’t care about justice either. They don’t even care about reality. All they care about is money, and in their world, looking poor is crime enough. These puppetmasters want the county to focus on projecting that appearance of bland, harmonious prosperity that investors find so appealing, and they don’t really care if cops rape homeless women or if the DA railroads innocent defendants just to enhance her statistics.

This decision is just the latest attack on the civil and human rights of Humboldt County’s most vulnerable. We must assume that the Board of Supervisors went looking for a weak public defender, since the Board of Supes passed over two experienced, well-qualified candidates from within our current public defender’s office, and instead opted for an undistinguished, out-of-the-area candidate with very little experience. This decision will likely demoralize the public defender’s office.

Becoming a public defender is probably the most noble thing an attorney can do with his education. The workload is overwhelming and the pay is low, by attorney’s standards. The people who choose to make their career in the public defender’s office do it because they believe, passionately, in justice for all. The injustice of this decision will not be lost on them. It would not surprise me if many of the excellent defense attorneys now working in our public defender’s office decided to look for other avenues to further their careers.

The public defender is the poor defendant’s only advocate against the entire law enforcement bureaucracy. A good public defender keeps cops honest and makes the DA do their job. A weak public defender denies justice to the whole community because they let cops cut corners, and let the DA railroad innocent poor people to pump up their stats. A weak public defender weakens civil rights and undermines public trust.

Once again, by intentionally choosing a weak public defender, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors has demonstrated the contempt for justice, human rights and civil rights that has darkened this county’s history for so long.


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