Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Supervisors Approve Payment for Deputy P.D.’s Defense
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Board of Supervisors yesterday approved a request by Acting Public Defender Kelly Emling that her department be authorized to spend up to $15,000 to defend one of her deputies against State Bar disciplinary charges.
A county spokesperson said the request was approved by a vote of 4-0. Supervisor Kathryn Barger was out of the room when the vote was taken, the spokesperson said.
Emling said the case brought against Deputy Public Defender Delia Metoyer meets the standards of Government Code §995.6, which allows the county to pay for the defense of an employee in an administrative proceeding brought as a result of a job-related act or omission, if the employee acted “in good faith, without actual malice and in the apparent interests of the public entity.”
The funds would come from her office’s current budget, Emling said.
The Office of Chief Trial Counsel charged Metoyer in December with abandoning a client, disobeying a court order, and failing to report sanctions to the State Bar within 30 days as required by rule. Metoyer, represented by Chatsworth attorney Paul J. Virgo, filed a terse response, denying the charges without elaboration.
The notice of charges asserts that the deputy public defender “failed…to take reasonable steps to avoid reasonably foreseeable prejudice to [her] client, Matiwos Ghebrehiwot, by constructively terminating [her] employment on January 15, 2015, by falling to take any action on the client’s behalf after January 15, 2015, by failing to appear and participate at trial without the client’s knowledge, authority or consent, and thereafter failing to inform the client that Respondent was withdrawing from employment.”
It further charges that Metoyer did not comply with an order to appear for trial in the case on that date, and that she did not inform the State Bar of a $1,500 sanctions order for that failure to appear.
Further facts about the matter are set forth in an unpublished opinion by Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Norman Epstein of this district’s Div. Four, which affirmed by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Eleanor Hunter’s sanctions order.
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.
No Time Limit
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.
The supervisor, Rhonda May-Rucker, who is no longer with the office, told the board in public comment last month that 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.” She criticized Emling for appearing to put the blame for Metoyer’s non-compliance on May-Rucker, a charge to which Emling declined to respond when contacted by the MetNews.
The propriety of Metoyer’s conduct, Emling wrote in a follow-up letter to the board following postponement of action on the request, 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.
“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.”
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