The The committee supervising the state’s public defense services office has dismissed its executive director Thursday in an effort to curb months of dysfunction that spilled into public view.
in Largely telegraph decision earlier this week, commissioners voted 6-2 With the absence of a member to fire Stephen Singer, and specifically that of the Lieutenant Reformer, he has burned many bridges between key decision makers after less than a year on the job.
“Director Singer’s ability to work with our closest partners in the legislature, and within the executive branch and judiciary, has been irreparably damaged,” said Paul Solomon, deputy chair of the committee. “I just don’t see a way forward.”
The dismissal comes during the crisis of Oregon’s public defense system, and is the only one in the state that relies entirely on paid contractors to provide attorneys for criminal defendants who cannot afford their own.
Dozens of people are being held behind bars despite not having a lawyer assigned to their case, while the number of those out of custody and without a lawyer is nearly 1,000, according to the Oregon Department of Justice.
Commissioners deadlocked over a motion to fire Singer last week, spurring them Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters To remove every member of Board of Directors, then reappointment of five commissioners and selection of four replacements.
In a final plea to keep his job, Singer noted that he had been punished by Walters for acting independently of the judiciary, describing the chief justice as an autocrat no different from Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“This committee, with its current formation, is a complete sham,” he said during the meeting. “This is what happens in third world dictatorships.”
two of Newly appointed commissionersPeter Buckley and Jennifer Parish Taylor have voted against firing the director, saying they would support putting Singer on paid leave while a workplace investigation is underway.
After splitting the vote, the commissioners announced plans to begin the immediate search for a new CEO. The agency’s deputy director, Brian De Forest, will handle the administration while the bureau’s criminal trial attorney, Laurie Bender, will handle legal matters in the meantime.
Singer said he was a scapegoat for the state’s refusal to adequately fund the $350 million public defense system, which is understaffed by about two-thirds, according to For a January report by the American Bar Association.
At the same time, Singer admitted to having “negative interactions” with two lawmakers and described it tone, ring To Walters during a meeting in April as “problematic,” saying his apology to her still stands.
But he recounted Walters’ response to his apology and said it shocked him.
“She said to me very directly, ‘Steve, one of the things that really pissed me off is when I said ‘stay in my lane’ according to Singer. Then he added, “I’m the chief judge. I don’t have any lanes.”
Walters responded: “It is everyone’s responsibility to provide lawyers to those who deserve them. That is what I mean when I say there are no corridors.”
Singer delivered his remarks remotely, saying he was out of state on a long-planned vacation.
The Chief Justice argued directly She violated the law of the state that forbids it of exercising “administrative authority and supervision” over the Public Defense Services Authority.
Walters did not respond directly to the criticism during the meeting, but has previously said she acted only out of concern for the indigent defendants, not personal animosity. Walters is a non-voting member of the committee, with sole authority to appoint and dismiss its members.
legal observers said Singer’s hotness has largely caused him to back off, because his initiatives to diversify defense attorneys and increase attorneys’ salaries were generally well received by defense attorneys. Singer also supported the Public Defense Agency’s longstanding efforts to establish a statewide public defender organization, rather than contracting to work with private attorneys.
“What led to his downfall was his style and tone,” said Jonathan Sarr, director of the Portland Defense Union, a group of criminal defense attorneys who handle court-appointed cases. “But I think in balance he was trying to improve the system.”
Criminal justice advocates have taken a lackluster view on Singer’s firing, arguing that the judiciary has long been more interested in clearing transcripts than providing a proper legal defense for the poor, and has allowed the understaffed defense system to fester for decades.
The Oregon Justice Resource Center, a nonprofit civil liberties group, is currently up and running Prosecuting the state on behalf of four people who were imprisoned without a lawyer, saying their lack of representation would violate their constitutional rights. The case faces a ruling over a motion to dismiss it next month.
“We have viewed this as an absolutely outrageous act by the Chief Justice,” said Resource Centre’s Executive Director, Bhubin Singh. “She puts on full display this distinction of etiquette and style over substance.”
– Zane Sparling, firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-319-7083; Tweet embed
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