Uncertainty Surrounds Monday's Public Defender Hearing


Humboldt County Public Defender David Marcus in his sparsely decorated Eureka office. - PHOTO BY MARK MCKENNA
  • Photo by Mark McKenna
  • Humboldt County Public Defender David Marcus in his sparsely decorated Eureka office.
The lawsuit challenging embattled Humboldt County Public Defender David Marcus’ hiring is bound for a hearing Monday but it’s hard to say what to expect. It could be the decisive moment in the 9-month-old lawsuit, an evidentiary hearing on the merits that ultimately answers whether Marcus meets minimum state qualifications for the post. Or the parties could convene in visiting Judge Marjorie Carter’s court simply to set some future hearing dates.

Local attorney Patrik Griego, who filed the suit on behalf of current and former public defender employees and clients, as well as a few local taxpayers, had asked Carter to schedule the Nov. 13 date for a hearing to determine whether Marcus meets the state qualification of having been a “practicing attorney in all the courts of the state for at least the year preceding” his hire. But in its reply to Griego’s motion, the county is arguing that Griego is trying to hurry the case forward, depriving the county of its right to depose witnesses and research its defense.

Griego counters that the county is dragging its feet, engaged in a pattern of “gamesmanship” intended to delay the case until it becomes moot on the anniversary of Marcus’ Feb. 8 hire. Then, even if Marcus is found to have been unqualified at the time of his hire, he will have spent the past year practicing law in local courts and could be simply rehired, Griego worries.

Marcus was living in Florida at the time of his hire and had been primarily working as an insurance adjuster there. During a deposition in the case, Marcus testified that during that year, he also worked as a contract attorney for the Walnut Creek firm Cella, Lange and Cella, which is owned by his good friend, but Marcus conceded he didn’t appear in court or author any legal pleadings during that span. He also testified that he had no contract with the law firm and no records of his hours worked.

The county contends that California’s decades-old statute simply requires Marcus to have been licensed to practice law in California for the year prior to his hire. Griego, meanwhile, has argued that the statute requires Marcus to have been a practicing attorney appearing in civil and criminal courts.

County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck began deposing witnesses in the case last week and has additional depositions scheduled all the way through Feb. 22. He has argued the depositions are necessary to properly defend the county, while Griego has contended that none of the witnesses can speak to the heart of the case — which is whether Marcus’ immediate work history meets the state’s minimum qualification for the post.

Because Blanck didn’t file a separate motion seeking to continue Monday’s hearing, meaning Carter won’t address the matter until the hearing, it seems all parties will walk into court Monday uncertain of what to expect.

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