A judge is expected to rule next month on “the bottom line” in the lawsuit over whether Public Defender David Marcus is qualified for the job.

“The bottom line is we’re going to have to determine what that statute means,” visiting Judge Marjorie Carter told attorneys at a hearing today. The nearly century-old statute mandates that a public defender must have practiced in the California courts in the year before he or she was hired.

Today Carter, on speaker phone in Courtroom Four, said she would issue her interpretation of the statute on Dec. 13. She told attorney Patrik Griego, who filed the suit, and County Counsel Jeffery Blanck, representing the county and Board of Supervisors, to have their arguments filed by Dec. 7 and the responses by Dec. 12. Carter will be in Humboldt County on the 13th to issue her ruling.

Griego maintains Marcus last set foot in a California courtroom in 2012 and therefore is ineligible. But Blanck says it is sufficient that Marcus was licensed to practice in the state. And even though he was living in Florida and working as an insurance adjuster, he also was doing legal work for his friend’s law firm in the Bay Area, the county says.

Griego started out today by objecting to the county’s plan to take numerous depositions, a process expected to last well into 2018. Griego said that appears to be an effort to delay the case until after Marcus has spent a year on the job, and therefore has practiced in the courts for a year.

Blanck denied that, pointing out that it took Griego three months to set up a deposition of Marcus, and saying the county has a right to a discovery process. He said he is not asking for a continuance “because there’s no trial date set.”

Apparently the county won’t finish all the planned depositions, since the ruling is set in just a few weeks. Among those being deposed are all the listed plaintiffs, and the deputy public defenders who worked in the office when Marcus took over. Many of those attorneys have resigned.

Blanck said he has a standard questionnaire for the deputy public defenders. Among the questions are whether they feel Marcus’s hiring caused them “irreparable harm.”

“So far the irreparable harm is the cloud over the office,” Blanck said. “Well, we’re up in Humboldt and we get a lot of clouds here, and they come and go.”

Asked whether the attorneys had any proof that Marcus didn’t work five hours a week for the Bay Area firm, the typical answer was “We don’t have any facts, we just don’t believe it,” Blanck said.

There also is scant proof that Marcus did work for the firm. There is no written contract, his name is on no court filings and he has never been paid.

According to documents filed by Griego, after Marcus’s controversial tenure as the Lassen County public defender he ended up in New Jersey collecting unemployment benefits. He then moved to Florida and became an insurance adjuster, and finally “had been relegated to applying for entry-level deputy public defender positions without success.”

The Board of Supervisors hired him as Humboldt’s top defender in February. He is being paid $150,132 a year plus full benefits.

In documents prepared for today’s hearing, Griego requested that Carter set aside Marcus’s appointment and order the county to abide by state law in hiring a public defender. She made no ruling on those issues.

The judge indicated the important factor is the interpretation of the state statute, with other issues “sort of in the background.”

Griego said outside court that if Carter rules his interpretation of the statute is correct, “I think the case is over.”

If the judge sides with the county’s position, he said, there will be an evidentiary hearing on what Marcus was doing to practice law in the year before he was hired.