ILNews

Chief PD: No one forced me out

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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The top public defender in Marion County said he wasn't forced to leave the agency for any reason, though he does worry that politics could play into the naming of his successor.

Indiana Lawyer put the question to David E. Cook after reading a posting on Ruth's Blog, a Web log devoted to news and commentary. The posting claimed that Cook was forced from his job for political reasons.

While Cook is cognizant that his position is a political one and attempts have been made in the past to further politicize the office, he said that no one forced his hand when he resigned late last year. Politics was one of many reasons for his decision, he said.

"As I've said before, you have to have a fire in your belly for this, and it's not there anymore," he said. "I wasn't up for the political fights, the budget-setting process, the fire you need to do this work, all of that. It was time to pass the baton on to someone else."

But Cook is concerned about politics when it comes to the person who will take charge of the office he's led for 12 years.

"I work in a political world, but I've never been a political person," he said. "Politics hasn't mattered to me in this office. Sure, this is a political position; I've always known that just because of the visibility and nature of the (City-County Council) confirmations. But we haven't played politics here."

One of the issues he regrets not changing is how the council reconfirms the chief public defender each year. Cook hopes that's the first task his successor takes on and something the agency's board addresses, possibly looking at giving the public defender a term similar to what elected prosecutors have.

"If this position goes to a political hack and the agency starts going backward, it'll be sad and distressing," Cook said. "But it's not my problem."

Cook is stepping down March 15 from the agency's top post, where he's served since 1995. He is going to work at Indianapolis immigration firm Gresk & Singleton - something that's been in the works since spring 2007, he said. Originally, he'd planned to leave by Feb. 15 but decided to stay longer to give the board more time to find a successor without having to name an interim director.

The attorney who chairs the Marion County Public Defender Agency's governing board also said that politics isn't at play in appointing someone to succeed Cook, and board members plan to fairly interview all applicants and appoint the person they believe will be the best choice.

"I think the process we have now is designed to de-politicize that," said board chairman Jimmie McMillian, an associate with Barnes & Thornburg. "Politics are completely irrelevant in this, and we've always strived as a board to be non-political. We want to find the best person to fill this position. If it were up to us, Dave would be over there forever."

McMillian emphasized that the nine-member board is committed to having an interview process free from politics. Ten attorneys applied for the position by the Feb. 1 deadline; first interviews are planned for Feb. 26 and second interviews are set for March 3. The board will determine the next step after those second interviews, McMillian said. The City-County Council must confirm the appointment.

Members plan to ask each candidate to talk about four agency-important topics during their interviews: the ability of public defenders to continue in private practice, the office's budget priorities, training of public defenders and staff, and the screening process to make sure all indigent clients are being adequately identified.

"That sends a message of how serious we are as a board about appointing someone in a non-political way," McMillian said. "We don't care what political party you are but want to make sure you have good answers about these important issues."

Former chairman Jon Bailey with law firm Bose McKinney & Evans said that any public defender needs to be able to work with everyone in the courts and City-County Building, despite any political affiliations. While federal caselaw recognizes that political affiliation may be a legitimate consideration in top policymaker positions, Bailey pointed out that any political-affiliation test used during the appointment process would be wrong.

"In the Marion County context, given the history of the board and agency, permitting a political-affiliation test would be absolutely wrong and a huge step backward," he said.
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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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