November 22, 2011
Public defender reappointment questioned
County administrator opposed to rehiring official who has been in the job since 2000
The recently formed committee that will recommend candidates for five appointed county positions next year has supported reappointing all incumbents but Public Defender Keith Dayton.
The committee will question Dayton about hours he devotes to teaching at SUNY Cortland.
The public defender job will be posted and Dayton and other candidates interviewed, said committee member Don Spaulding (D-6th Ward).
The committee met Friday. It was formed Thursday when each caucus recommended the members prior to Legislative session and the Legislature then approved the committee at the session.
The committee Friday recommended reappointing incumbents for all other positions. They are: Legislature Clerk Jeremy Boylan, Veterans Service Officer Carl Bullock, County Auditor Jane Sharpe and County Attorney Ed Purser.
The committee is comprised of Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer), Newell Willcox (R-Homer), John Natoli (R-8th Ward), John Troy (D-1st Ward), Tom Hartnett (D-4th Ward) and Spaulding.
County Administrator Martin Murphy sits on the committee as a voting member and Personnel Director Annette Barber sits in an advisory capacity.
The positions will be appointed at the January reorganizational meeting held the first Wednesday of the month.
Murphy raised questions about Dayton’s job performance, including the hours he devotes to the job, given that he also teaches economics at SUNY Cortland, Spaulding said.
Dayton is paid $89,670 to work a 35-hour week. Dayton said he regularly devotes 50 hours weekly to the job.
Dayton has been public defender since Oct. 12, 2000.
“We (legislators) really don’t have that much contact with the public defender and he is supposed to interact with Mr. Murphy, which evidently has not been happening satisfactorily,” Spaulding said.
Murphy said he found out earlier this year that Dayton was also teaching during the day but said he never addressed the matter with Dayton.
The fact that Dayton’s teaching job was taking him out of the office was a concern, said Murphy.
There are no prohibitions against the public defender having outside employment but the administrator should approve it, he said.
“Clearly it has to be approved by the county administrator and during that approval process is when the time of day and the hours required are taken into consideration to see whether or not it would interfere with the person’s job duties at the county,” Murphy said.
Since Dayton was away during daytime hours, Murphy said there were concerns that his staff was not being adequately supervised.
Dayton contends his teaching never interfered with his public defender duties. Dayton said his classes fall twice weekly during lunch hours or Thursday evenings.
“Never has there been a complaint by any judge, any client or any staff person, that my teaching has ever interfered in any way with my public defender duties,” Dayton said.
On the contrary, Dayton said past legislators have praised him for being a professor locally, providing good public relations with SUNY Cortland and also internship opportunities. Dayton said he has formed an internship program where six interns yearly devote 45 hours a week to help the public defender office with various duties.
The committee will interview candidates once all applications are received. The job was posted Monday.
The interview process will cover all candidates’ outside employment responsibilities, said Murphy.
“And ideally we will find the best fit for the public defender office and make that selection,” he added.
The move comes at the end of the term of Legislature Chairman Jack Williams, who has pushed for Dayton’s ousting since the beginning of his term. Williams questioned Dayton’s courtroom conduct and was later sued by Dayton for his acquisition of Family Court transcripts.
The suit was dismissed earlier this year. The judge ruled that Dayton lacked authorization from the clients to bring the suit on their behalf.
Williams has favored disbanding the Public Defender Office in favor of an assigned counsel program. Williams was never able to provide figures backing up the fiscal merits of that move and it never proceeded.
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