Merced County names new public defender

07/18/2014 1:27 PM

07/18/2014 9:21 PM

A longtime prosecutor has been chosen to lead the Merced County public defender’s office, according to an email obtained by the Merced Sun-Star.

David Elgin, who currently works as a supervising deputy district attorney, has been selected by Merced County Executive Officer Jim Brown.

The Sun-Star learned of the recommendation via an email from the county’s interim public defender, Vincent Andrade. The email asked the office to “please join in welcoming (Elgin)” to the new position.

Elgin’s appointment needs approval by the Board of Supervisors, and the board is expected to consider it at the July 29 meeting. Elgin has spent 14 years in the district attorney’s office, but he has experience representing clients on both sides of the legal system.

Elgin worked as a private criminal defense attorney in Madera County and an officer for the California Highway Patrol during his career.

“I am very pleased,” Elgin said of the recommendation Friday. “There’s a lot of potential to have a fabulous public defender’s office, because there are a lot of young, extremely skilled attorneys. I think that I could provide them with some direction going forward.”

Andrade, chief deputy public defender, was selected as interim public defender in February. Andrade’s salary range was $125,049.60 to $152,235.20 a year, but he received a 10 percent raise and $300 monthly allowance after he stepped in as interim public defender.

Andrade, who also applied for the public defender job, did not return calls Friday. He was one of five finalists for the job but was eliminated from consideration after an oral panel interview, county leaders said.

Brown said he was looking for a public defender with a solid legal background and strong leadership capabilities.

“As we approached this recruitment, we were looking for somebody who had integrity and respect, and a strong leadership ability to help the department move forward,” Brown said Friday.

“Dave Elgin has extensive court experience handling many serious cases for both the prosecution and defense side,” Brown added. “He is very well respected and has a lot of credibility through the system.”

Brown said there were two finalists for the job recommendation this week, Elgin and a female candidate from the East Coast, but she backed out of the final interview because of a sick family member.

The previous public defender, Eric Dumars, resigned his position in January after the county launched an internal investigation into complaints of favoritism and potential retaliation. 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 careers.

Dumars, who now works in private practice in Salinas and Merced, said he believes Elgin is a good leader for that office.

“I expect Dave will get the public defender’s office back on the positive track it was on prior to my departure,” Dumars said. “Focusing on defense of the indigent and providing efficient and excellent representation to those society would rather forget about is and always should have been the priority of that office.”

“I’m confident Dave will be the strong leader that office deserves,” he said.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II said Elgin is a “first-rate prosecutor” and he’s sad to see him go.

“He will be a very staunch and aggressive advocate for the public defender’s office,” Morse said. “The system is adversarial but very rarely hostile. We all get along, and I have a high regard for the men and women of the public defender’s office.”

Elgin said working on both the prosecution and defense side has several benefits. “The advantages that you would get from working the other side is understanding how they look at a case,” he said.“Being able to argue both sides makes you a better representative for your client.”

Elgin said he looks forward to defending the rights of those in danger of losing their freedom. He believes in addressing the underlying reasons someone gets into the criminal system.

“If you address that successfully, it makes the community a better place,” he said.

Elgin acknowledged the public defender’s office has had its share of difficulties this year but he hopes to heal them. One challenge ahead is the retirement of an office supervisor, Judy Harney, who has worked at the public defender’s office for more than 30 years and has provided key support to staff.

Brown said he’s “looking at options” to see if Harney can assist with Elgin’s transition to prevent a loss of institutional knowledge.

The public defender positions pays $137,966 to $167,980 a year, according to Merced County’s website.

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