Merced County launched internal investigation into Dumars

The planned resignation of Merced County Public Defender Eric Dumars comes on the heels of an internal investigation by the county, officials confirmed Wednesday.

A copy of the investigation has been requested by the Sun-Star through a public records request, but it has yet to be provided.

Concerns that led to the investigation surfaced only after Dumars left the Public Defender’s Office on an undisclosed leave, according to his Fresno-based attorney Barry Bennett. The results of the investigation were inconclusive, he added.

“It is fair to say none of these things came up until he was off on sick leave,” Bennett said. “From my standpoint, the investigator found that some things were true and others were not. It was inconclusive about other things.”

Bennett would not elaborate on specifics.

Rather than argue over the merit of the complaints, Bennett said it was easier to have Dumars voluntarily resign his position.

“Had we not reached an agreement then we would have had to go to the board and argue over the investigation. I didn’t really want to put anyone through that if we could avoid it,” Bennett said. “In the end, given all the factors, it seemed like the best decision for everyone for him to walk away.”

Bennett said Dumars is satisfied with the outcome of the decision, adding he’s a “bright guy” who will move on to other opportunities. Dumars sent an e-mail to his staff Tuesday night announcing his decision, but an official resignation to the Board of Supervisors might come by the end of the week.

Michael Pro, the county public defender before Dumars, said the resignation came as a surprise.

Pro, 64, now lives in Florida. He recalled working with Dumars in Merced County and promoting him to chief deputy public defender position.

“I talked to him (Dumars) on the phone this morning and wished him well,” Pro said Wednesday. “It’s not something you expect to happen. He’s a very good attorney and I had high hopes for him as a public defender. It’s sad that things didn’t work out.

“I don’t think the resignation has anything to do with his ability to do his job,” Pro added.

Wayne Eisenhart, the county public defender before Pro, said he was involved with the decision to hire Dumars in 2005. Eisenhart called Dumars a “smart and energetic” person.

“I don’t know what’s behind this decision, but I’m sorry to see him go,” said Eisenhart, 65. “He was a good attorney in our office and to the extent that I observed what was going on after I retired, he seemed to be doing a good job.”

Jeffrey Tenenbaum, a private Merced attorney, said the pressures of working as a criminal defense attorney can be intense, although it’s unclear if those pressures contributed to Dumars’ resignation.

“A lot of times people’s lives are in our hands and we are faced with some very difficult challenges to try to help people,” said Tenenbaum, who has worked with Dumars the last eight years. “There are certainly a lot of pressures in doing criminal defense work.”

Tenenbaum said he hadn’t spoken to Dumars in several months, but described him as a caring attorney in the courtroom.

“I would definitely see it as a loss to Merced,” Tenenbaum said. “It definitely came as a surprise to me and I wish him the very best.”