Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Public Defender Accused of Lying to County Supervisors
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A veteran former deputy public defender has accused Acting Public Defender Kelly Emling of misstating facts in support of Emling’s request that the county Board of Supervisors approve the spending of up to $15,000 to defend one of the office’s attorneys against State Bar disciplinary charges.
A transcript of last Tuesday’s meeting shows that Rhonda May-Rucker spoke during the public comment period. Earlier, Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas announced that action on the request that the county pay for Delia Metoyer’s defense would be postponed for one week at the acting public defender’s request.
Emling, however, has asked that the matter be postponed for an additional week, to next Tuesday, the agenda for today’s meeting says. Emling did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment on May-Rucker’s remarks.
The MetNews, based on information supplied by an aide to Supervisor Hilda Solis, erroneously reported Wednesday that the funding request had been approved. The story also identified another supervisor as board chair, rather than Ridley-Thomas, who took the chair in December.
A county spokesperson noted the errors on Friday, calling attention to the transcript.
In her remarks to the board, May-Rucker identified herself as a 28-year employee of the office and as Metoyer’s supervisor at the time of the incident that led to the filing of State Bar charges. The Office of Chief Trial Counsel has accused Metoyer of abandoning a client, disobeying a court order, and failing to report sanctions to the State Bar within the time required by rule.
The Court of Appeal for this district, in an unpublished opinion last July, affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Hunter’s imposition of $1,500 in sanctions the previous January. Presiding Justice Norman Epstein explained in his opinion that Metoyer, after Hunter denied her request for a continuance of what was expected to be a brief trial due to a scheduled medical appointment, went to a restroom to compose herself, but never returned to court.
In her request for funds, Emling insisted that Metoyer acted in good faith, and wrote that Metoyer’s supervisor “relieved the Deputy Public Defender taking [her] out of trial rotation and reassigned [her] cases in response to the immediate health needs of the Deputy Public Defender” and “informed the trial judge of the circumstances regarding [her] absence from appearing before the court.”
May-Rucker told the board, however, that Emling “lied when she said that the lawyer did not return to court because she relied on my representation, and that I had reassigned the case.”
May-Rucker explained further:
“After the court agreed to allow the lawyer to attend her appointment, I asked the lawyer to return to court several times, and she refused. I told the lawyer numerous times, if she did not return to court, she would be abandoning her client, and she still refused. When she refused to return to court, I was forced to reassign the case.”
May-Rucker said she discussed the matter with then-Public Defender Ronald Brown, who has since retired, as well as with higher-level deputies and with a county psychiatrist. She said it was “offensive” to her “that Ms. Emling said she researched the issue and came to the conclusion that the lawyer relied on my representation, as if I caused her to abandon her client.”
She said the episode was indicative of a broader problem within the office, a lack of communication between upper management and the head deputies and division chiefs. “[W]hich is why the office is in such bad shape and morale is at an all-time low,” May-Rucker opined.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company