Rhonda Parker / Friday, Sept. 22 @ 4:02 p.m. / Courts
Judge Rules Lawsuit Against Hiring of Humboldt Public Defender David Marcus Can Proceed
The lawsuit over the county’s hiring of Public Defender David Marcus can go forward, visiting Judge Marjorie Carter ruled this morning.
Carter overruled the county’s demurrer to the suit filed by Eureka attorney Patrik Griego, who says Marcus is unqualified because he didn’t practice law in California during the year before he was hired. Marcus, though he maintained his law license in California, spent the year working as an insurance adjuster in Florida.
The state statute says a public defender must have practiced law in all California courts during the year before he or she takes the job. Marcus has acknowledged he didn’t set foot in a California courtroom, but says he was working informally for the Cella firm in the Bay Area.
Griego said outside court that Marcus “never got paid a dime” for the work he claims he did for the Bay Area law firm. Marcus’ only proof for that work, Griego said, is a statement from long-time friend Christopher Cella, a partner in the practice.
“That’s not going to pass the straight-face test,” Griego predicted, saying Marcus “never did any court work” at all, such as filing a legal brief.
The county now has 15 days to respond to Griego’s petition, and then a hearing will be scheduled. Griego said he will request that it be an “evidentiary hearing” with testimony from witnesses.
County Counsel Jeff Blanck, representing the Board of Supervisors in this action, said he believes Marcus is qualified for the position.
“We still think he’s eligible,” Blanck said by phone after the hearing. “In the preceding year he did practice law. He gave legal advice to a firm in California on various legal matters, and he was licensed to practice law in all the courts in California.”
As to Marcus not being paid for the alleged legal work, “It wasn’t a straight-time pay situation,” Blanck said.
Marcus didn’t attend the hearing this morning and did not respond to a request for comment. But three of his employees, Deputy Public Defenders Casey Russo, Meagan O’Connell and Brie Bennett, were there to watch the proceeding.
O’Connell is one of several deputies who have resigned from the office. Others are Deputy Public Defenders Jennifer Dixon, Owen Tipps, Heidi Holmquist Wells and Eric Fleischaker.
Russo is still hanging in there, but this week he requested a continuance in the Jon Goldberg murder trial because a massive caseload is being shared by 2.5 attorneys instead of the 6 or 7 needed. Judge Carter granted the delay but made Russo promise he wouldn’t quit his job in the meantime.
Wells has gone into private practice, Tipps is working as a research attorney for the Superior Court, O’Connell has been hired at the county Conflict Counsel’s Office and Fleischaker is a deputy public defender in San Francisco.
The Board of Supervisors hired Marcus in February, passing over local attorneys who had applied. One of the rejected candidates is now a judge, and another is head of the Conflict Counsel’s Office.
During a deposition given in July, Marcus testified he worked on four cases for the Bay Area firm during the year before he took the job in Humboldt County. He admitted he wasn’t paid, never wrote any court pleadings, never appeared in court and wasn’t under contract with the law firm or any client.
Marcus said most of the work he did was in September 2016, when Cella came to visit him in Florida. He said he gave Cella advice on legal briefs for three cases, and he may have participated in a couple of conference calls.
The Board of Supervisors has steadfastly defended Marcus, including after receiving a letter of complaint signed by every deputy public defender and most of the office staff.