Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Public Defender: Deputy’s Conduct Appears ‘Questionable’
Kelly Emling Says Delia Metoyer Was Not Malicious, County Should Fund State Bar Defense
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A deputy public defender’s decision to return to her office, rather than to a courtroom as expected by the judge, “appears questionable” but was not malicious, Acting Public Defender Kelly Emling has told the Board of Supervisors.
Emling made the comment in a letter to the board, which is scheduled to take up, at today’s meeting, her request that the county pay for the State Bar defense of Deputy Public Defender Delia Metoyer. Metoyer is accused of abandoning a client, disobeying a court order, and failing to report sanctions to the State Bar within 30 days as required by rule.
The acting public defender is seeking authority to spend up to $15,000, from her office’s current budget, to pay a lawyer to represent Metoyer. She told the board in her letter that the office “retained a state bar specialist to consult with and defend” Metoyer, but terminated those services upon learning that by statute, the county cannot pay for an employee’s defense to an administrative proceeding without board approval.
‘Good Faith’ Requirement
The board may approve that request, Government Code §995.6 says, if the proceeding was brought as a result of a job-related act or omission, and the act or omission was “in good faith, without actual malice and in the apparent interests of the public entity.”
Emling explained that she wrote the letter, as a follow-up to her initial request, in light of a Feb. 10 “Perspectives” column by MetNews Editor-in-Chief Roger M. Grace and comments to the board last week by former Deputy Public Defender Rhonda May-Rucker, who was Metoyer’s supervisor at the time of the incident.
Grace accused Emling of having “simplified the facts to the point of an outright misrepresentation to the supervisors as to the conduct” that led to the charges. He cited the opinion of Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Norman Epstein of this district’s Div. Four, affirming the imposition of $1,500 in sanctions by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Eleanor Hunter.
Metoyer, the jurist wrote, failed to return to court after Hunter allowed her to go to the restroom to compose herself. The attorney was apparently distraught after the judge declined to continue a brief trial so that Metoyer could attend to a personal medical appointment.
While Metoyer said the judge did not set a time limit for her to return to court, Epstein noted that she did not return at all, and that she did not call the courtroom, even though she could have done so, as indicated by the fact that she did call her supervisor.
May-Rucker, in addressing the board during last Tuesday’s public comment period, said she told Metoyer to return to the courtroom, but that the deputy “refused,” even after the supervisor told her “she would be abandoning her client.” Emling, she said, “lied” in her request for funding approval by saying that Metoyer “did not return to court because she relied on my representation, and that I had reassigned the case.”
Emling, in her follow-up letter, told the board that the supervisor was unaware that Metoyer was expected back in the courtroom, and asked her to come to the office. May-Rucker, she explained, called the judge and asked that she allow the attorney to attend to her doctor appointment the next day.
“After further discussions and observations of the Deputy Public Defender’s emotional state, the supervisor determined that the Deputy Public Defender was unable to represent the client and proceed with the trial,” Emling wrote, and therefore reassigned the case.
Scope of Employment
The propriety of Metoyer’s conduct, Emling said, may be addressed by the office internally once the State Bar proceeding is completed. But the funding request should be approved she said, because the alleged client abandonment and failure to obey Hunter’s order clearly were within the scope of employment.
“Reasonable minds can differ” as to whether not reporting the sanctions was outside the scope of employment, she said. But the defense should still be funded, Emling urged the board, because the charges primarily result from conduct within the scope of employment.
“While there are conflicting versions of what happened…all accounts indicate that the Deputy Public Defender was emotional and distraught,” she wrote. “While it could be argued that the Deputy Public Defender exercised questionable judgment, I believe that the evidence does not support a finding that she acted with actual malice or in bad faith.”
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company