Tuesday, October 23, 2012
The Public Defender's Purge
My summer vacation from this blog went on so long I thought I might never return, but an item from the Daily Record caught my eye and sense of disgust. The Baltimore Sun, that increasingly irrelevant paper, apparently didn't notice, but the city public defender's office underwent a purge last week.
Many of the office's most experienced trial attorneys were demoted or fired. This includes their second-in-command, Grace Reusing, and their chief felony lawyer, Bridget Shepherd. It's not a shake-up. It's a melt down.
What State Public Defender Paul DeWolfe hopes to create from the molten remains is anybody's guess. But from my perspective, the man lacks both intellectual honesty and basic humanity.
The Daily Record reported that "at least" one person was fired, but at least five were tossed out into the street. DeWolfe clearly intended a new beginning, but only had the guts and honesty to force it upon his white employees.
How does the person who managed all of those fired and demoted employees, who worked hand-in-hand with the deposed Reusing, not get the axe as well? Elizabeth Julian, the city's Public Defender, is African-American.
How do five older white men get canned, while 66-year-old Bob Cummings, no more distinguished than any of them, survive? He's also African American, and yes, he's the brother of that Cummings, U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings. Wolfe purged only to the point he anticipated political fallout.
Then there's the humanity aspect. One of the employees told me there was no warning, no indication of poor performance, no request to change what they were doing, nothing. Just boom, you're out, effective immediately.
I know most of the persons DeWolfe ousted or demoted. I tried cases against them, worked with and sometimes battled with them over policies and programs. Each one was a dedicated, competent advocate for their clients. I never met any more tenacious advocate than Shepherd, who once, to my amusement at the time, called herself and her office the "moral conscience of the criminal justice system." But that is exactly how she conducted herself. She stood up to every perceived violation of the rights and interests of her clients.
Her reward for her many years of effective service to her clients? A demotion to an entry level position, a deliberate humiliation.
At least, I suppose, she now has the choice to quit when she is ready. The older white men got fired without warning. Oh, they may be able to draw early retirement, which, if they are lucky, means a third of what they are making now. They were given no time to to look for other jobs, to readjust their retirement planning, to plan for their families' welfare.
One assistant public defender who is keeping her job spoke out, calling DeWolfe's actions "cruel." That would be Lisa Gladden, whose freedom of speech stems from her position as state senator and vice-chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. If DeWolfe wouldn't fire Cummings, he won't be firing Gladden, either, even when she correctly sums him up.
By what standards is the performance of the public defender's office measured? Who knows. DeWolfe pretty much has carte blanche to make whatever decisions he wants on any grounds he wants.
And if that includes the inhumanity of firing competent workers without notice, and the blatant use of age, race and gender in the demotion and retention of employees, so be it.
Pretty ironic for an agency charged with protecting the rights and respecting the dignity of those it represents.