Sunday, February 06, 2005

Offing the Defender

LUBOW FOR JUDGE? That campaign could come in wake of recent unpleasantness whereby GreeneLand’s long-serving Chief Public Defender, Greg Lubow,came to be succeeded by Dominic (“DJ”) Cornelius. Moves leading to that result--that ouster--left Lubow feeling more than a mite aggrieved. And some courthouse wags claim to have heard him voice a disposition to respond by running in November for County Judge, against incumbent George J. Pulver Jr. When queried by Seeing Greene, Lubow declined to confirm or deny that version of his future plans. If a contest does eventuate, insiders anticipate Trouble. Both candidates would be dogged by corps of long-time detractors.
“UGLY FROM THE GET-GO.” That’s how dissenting legislator Karen Deyo (R,Catskill) characterizes moves that culminated in the-9-5 vote that extinguished, after 27 years, Lubow’s tenure in an office whose attorneys, investigators and clerks handle about 1300 cases yearly of indigent defendants facing criminal charges. Backers of that judgment cite these considerations (and prudent readers would ponder possible counter-considerations). Enmity. Dislike of Lubow, on the part of some lawyers and law officers, goes back many years. One complaint is that the man is “nettlesome”/”abrasive”/“arrogant.” Another, voiced most aggressively by Alexander “Sandy” Mathes and Dorothy Prest, is that Lubow pushes too hard, giving his clients (at taxpayer expense) “Cadillac” instead of just appropriate “Chevy” representation. But those accusations in years past failed to win majority votes against re-appointing Lubow. They foundered on the absence of claims, let alone evidence, that Lubow ran an extraordinarily expensive operation or that, as litigator and office manager, Lubow was ineffectual. Indeed, a local judge says “I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Greg for 25 years…. He’s a pain in the neck—and an excellent lawyer. When he comes into my court, he’s thoroughly prepared and he’s tenacious.” Specious pretext. Crucial to Lubow’s departure from office was a proposal he made earlier this year to the county legislature, namely,that his office (five part-time attorneys, 3 investigators, 2.5 secretaries, big caseload) be given a full-time executive assistant. That request, so we understand, prompted key legislators to propose instead that Chief Public Defender be made a full-time salaried office. The proposal appeared (especially to rookie legislators) to be administrative, constructive, and divorced from implications about candidates. Actually, its sponsors anticipated—and hoped--that Lubow,with his well established private practice at home in Tannersville and kids to educate,would not accept the new arrangement. Lack of rationale. Sponsors of this administrative reform did not put it out for public discussion or study. They did not tout it as a solution to well-documented problems. They did not collect comparative data on jurisdictions having full-time (salaried) and part-time (billing by the hour) CPD’s. They adopted the reform without acknowledging or contemplating facts cited (tardily, to be sure) by Lubow, namely, that in New York’s less populous counties, most Public Defenders are part-timers in the sense that they are paid hourly wages rather than yearly salaries. Thus, in neighboring Columbia County, “which is about 50% larger than Greene County,” the CPD is a part-time functionary. The same applies (as Lubow noted in a letter of Feb. 2) to neighboring Ulster County, “3 times the size of Greene County, with more state prisons.” Spurned counter-proposal. Although Lubow initially declined to join the line of applicants for the salaried CPD job, he ultimately did make a proposal (in a letter of Jan. 27) that would enable him “to be the full time Greene County Public Defender and to maintain my private practice.” His offer hinged on construing the phrase “full time” to NOT mean putting in, literally, a 9-to-5 day in his Catskill courthouse office. Public defenders, he said, don’t work that way. For them “there are no ‘normal’ working hours.” Night work and weekend work often are required (even if mid-day work sometimes is not). Lubow proposed that he be hired on a full-time basis without the literal 9-to-5 stipulation,drawing a salary instead of being paid by the hour. If the legislators accept that interpretation, he would “perform the functions of the Public Defender” not for $70,000 per year but for $50,000—with the “remaining” $20,000 to be “used elsewhere within the personnel line of the budget.” In short, he proposed to function as full-time Chief Public Defender, for all intents and purposes, at a salary below what the legislators were offering. This scheme did not find favor with the Search Committee. The members did not say why. Blind choice? At the legislature’s meeting of Feb. 2, convened to complete the choice of a full-time CPD, the Search Committee nominated one candidate, who was identified only by name: D.J. Cornelius. That procedure elicited objections. Deyo (among others) demanded information about credentials. That demand eventually was met—to the extent of a half-page resumé. THE PROSPECT. GreeneLand’s new Chief Public Defender (as of Feb. 14) is well known locally (with deep family roots) and well liked. He has practiced law since 1996. Since mid-2002 he has been Second Assistant District Attorney under the direction and tutelage of Terry Wilhelm. By comparison with his predecessor, with the APD’s (assistant public defenders) he will supervise (if they stay on), and with some attorneys who applied for the job, DJ is short on trial experience and on supervisory experience. His strongest claim as candidate, Seeing Greene has been told, was firm support from his current boss. But with regard to future performance, that relationship could prove to be a mixed blessing. In the near term, Cornelius is precluded legally from handling cases he processed while working on the prosecutorial side. More durably, being ‘Terry’s protegee’ could make it hard for DJ to enter fully into his rôle as adversary of prosecutors (and, by extension, of law-enforcement officers). Compounding that problem must be DJ’s awareness of the “Cadillac defense” beef against his predecessor: beware of zealotry. Will GreeneLand’s newly constituted, newly led Public Defender’s office be a source of adequate counsel for its clients, and hence a true instrument of justice?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

is Dick May actually the pen name of Greg Lubow?