Public Defenders

Legal groups back PD who was told of his upcoming ouster before beginning cancer treatment

A public defender in Idaho who recently learned he will lose his job on Sept. 30 says the news comes at an inopportune time.

Chief public defender John Adams of Kootenai County tells the Coeur d’Alene Press that he was told of his upcoming ouster two weeks after notifying a county official that he would need a day off each week for cancer treatment. Adams had also clashed with a first-year county commissioner and had recently filed a harassment complaint against her with the chief lawyer for the county’s legal department.

The move comes as some legal groups are raising questions about attempted political influence by county commissioners. Adams’ harassment complaint said he had been “subjected to a steady and increasing level of interference in my legal duties” from County Commissioner Jai Nelson. He also alleged that Nelson had told him he would have to pay for a laptop with personal funds even though he purchased it for work.

Nelson told the Coeur d’Alene Press that the county had set an end date for Adams’ services as the first step in a process of studying the county’s public defense system. Adams objects to the way that decision was communicated to him—in a one-line memo. “It seems like pretty shabby treatment for someone who put in 17 years” as a public defender, he said.

Adams is getting support from the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho and the Idaho Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Coeur d’Alene Press reports in a separate article. The ACLU wrote in a letter that Adams is one of the state’s best public defenders, while the criminal defense group said it appeared the county was exerting political influence over the county’s public defender office.

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