Merced County looking at options for interim public defender

02/05/2014 9:00 PM

02/05/2014 11:10 PM

Merced County’s chief executive officer in about two weeks will recommend an interim public defender to the Board of Supervisors, to fill the void left by the departure of previous Public Defender Eric Dumars.

Dumars left office on administrative leave in September and resigned his position last month. County officials won’t disclose when his resignation takes effect, though he’s no longer on the job. County Executive Officer Jim Brown is expected to make his recommendation for an interim public defender at the Feb. 25 board meeting.

Brown told the Sun-Star on Tuesday that Vincent Andrade, chief deputy public defender, has been filling in as interim public defender since Oct. 21.

“He’s the next in line from management perspective,” Brown said. “Andrade has been providing oversight for staff in coordination with the courts since (Dumars) has been out on leave.”

Brown would not say whether he will recommend appointing Andrade to the interim position, which is appointed by the county CEO and confirmed by a vote from the county supervisors.

“Andrade is working very closely with myself and the other justice partners,” Brown said. “But at this point, I’m reviewing options.”

He would not elaborate on the other options.

Andrade declined an interview Wednesday, saying he was headed to court and citing a busy schedule. His salary range was $125,049.60 to $152,235.20 a year, but he received a raise after he stepped in as interim public defender.

“When someone takes over those duties, they get a 10 percent bump in pay and a $300 allowance per month for additional expenses,” said County Management Analyst Mike North. Andrade’s biweekly pay went from $5,669.76 to $6,338.87, North said.

Board Chairman and District 5 Supervisor Jerry O’Banion said there’s been no discussion among board members about the interim appointment. The supervisor said he’s known Andrade for many years, but declined comment on Andrade’s qualifications until a recommendation comes before the board.

“I know Mr. Andrade myself, and I think he’s a good guy,” O’Banion said. “I’ve known him for years, but I’m not going to discuss his qualifications for consideration of the position. I’m going to wait until the consideration and recommendation of the CEO comes to us.”

Dumars’ resignation in January came after the county launched an internal investigation into complaints of favoritism, potential retaliation and workplace safety concerns. The investigation followed a late-September suicide attempt by Dumars, which resulted in his extended leave of absence.

Dumars’ attorney, Barry Bennett, called the investigative report a “bunch of gossip” and an opportunity for attorneys in the public defender’s office to advance their own careers.

The county hired an independent investigator, Susan Hatmaker of Fresno-based law firm Sutton Hatmaker Law Corp., to conduct the investigation. The county paid Hatmaker $25,123.51 for 93 hours of work on the case, according to North.

Brown said the interim public defender will oversee the department while the county recruits for a permanent public defender. The position was not posted to the county’s website as of Wednesday evening, but Brown said recruitment would open in the “near future.”

The public defender’s office isn’t the only county department left without a chief.

The Mental Health Department’s director position has been vacant since Manuel Jimenez retired in October. The job posting seeking candidates is set to close Feb. 10, but Brown said he’s still looking at all options.

“There’s been an oral panel, and they did recommend a couple of people,” Brown said Tuesday. “However, after discussing it, we felt it would be better to go out a little while longer and see if we could get a few more (applicants).”

County supervisors unanimously appointed Assistant County Executive Officer Scott De Moss to the interim mental health director position at their Oct. 8, meeting.

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