Public Defenders

Suit claims public defender is unqualified

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A California lawyer has filed an amended lawsuit alleging the public defender in Humboldt County doesn’t meet the state qualifications to hold office.

The suit contends Public Defender David Marcus doesn’t meet the statutory requirement that public defenders must have been “a practicing attorney in all the courts of the state for at least the year preceding the date of his election or appointment.” The North Coast Journal covered the lawsuit and the controversy.

Marcus was the chief public defender in another California county from 2005 to 2011, but he was working primarily as an insurance claims adjuster in Florida when he was hired in February, the article reports. Humboldt County claims Marcus met the qualifications requirement because he maintained an active law license in California and was doing some contract legal work for a California law firm.

If the statute were interpreted differently, it would mean public defenders couldn’t hold office unless they “had made a physical appearance in literally all California courts, including every superior court in all 58 counties,” Humboldt County argued.

Griego’s suit says Marcus’ past year’s legal work isn’t sufficient under the law, and cites July 3 deposition testimony by Marcus to raise questions about the extent of the legal work he did.

In a July 3 deposition, Marcus said he had worked on four cases for the law firm in the year before his hiring by the county, but he received no pay. Marcus said most of the work consisted of a meeting with a law firm principal, also a friend, during a Florida visit in which he reviewed legal briefs for the three cases. Marcus also said he may have participated in a few conference calls with clients in the cases.

Marcus said he expected to get paid when the cases were over.

Marcus told the ABA Journal that the lawsuit turns on a one-sentence statute, and he thinks the county’s position is defensible.

His work for the law firm was “definitely” sufficient, he said, because there is no set amount of legal work that has to be done to comply with the law. “Essentially we’re going to get down to that one-sentence statute and see how that ultimately gets interpreted,” he said.

Third paragraph corrected at 11:30 a.m. to state that Marcus was working as an insurance adjuster when he was hired in February.

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