Thursday, April 18, 2002
Janice Fukai Appointed County’s Newest Head of the Alternate Public Defender Office
By NAZANIN AGANGE, Staff Writer
Janice Fukai has been appointed county alternate public defender, succeeding the county’s first APD, Bruce Hoffman.
The Board of Supervisors picked Fukai for the post on April 2 with little public fanfare.
He swift appointment was proof of the board’s confidence in her and in the office, Hoffman said.
“[It’s] a credit to [Fukai] that the Board of Supervisors thought she was the right person, absolutely the right person to run the office,” Hoffman said. “Second, it’s a comment on what the board thinks of the office itself; that it’s performed the functions it was meant to and is running smoothly.”
Fukai served as Hoffman’s top assistant from the time the office opened in 1993.
Hoffman stepped down March 31. He said he opted to retire only after deciding it was best for the office and best for him at the time.
“It seemed like a good time to make a transition and I thought and hoped it would go smoothly,” he said. “The thing I’m thrilled about is I don’t think the office will skip a beat with Janice at the helm.”
The position remained open only until the next supervisors meeting when Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky moved to waive county procedures to recruit and interview candidates and appoint Fukai. The motion passed unanimously.
The Board of Supervisors created the Alternate Public Defender’s Office to reduce the cost of hiring outside lawyers to represent indigents who could not be represented by the Public Defenders’ Office because of conflicts of interest. The office was modeled after a San Diego program that saved money for the county by eliminating the need to contract with private lawyer groups.
Hoffman was interviewed to head the office, then asked Fukai to join him.
“When I got the job I couldn’t think of a better person than Janice,” he recalled. “She was a little younger in grade in the Public Defender’s Office and in age, but our paths had crossed.”
Hoffman said the two had served together at both the downtown and Torrance offices of the Public Defender and on major projects within the office.
“I enjoyed working with her and thought she was extremely bright and very hardworking,” Hoffman said.
Fukai said they started with hardly anything more than ideas and by the end of the first year only had about 35 lawyers.
“It’s a great office because I was able to build from scratch,” she said. “Its been the most rewarding experience in my whole legal career.”
The office now employs 158 lawyers for a total of 254 employees.
The first day on the job Hoffman said he and Fukai had no office, no phones, and not even a place to park their cars.
“We looked at each other and asked ‘now that we got the job, where do we go from here?’” he related.
Fukai was instrumental in launching the office, Hoffman said.
“Chief deputy really runs the office,” he said. “The department head may have some ideas, but implementing ideas and getting the job done is the Chief. The department head may get the credit, but the person who deserves the credit is the Chief Deputy. [Fukai] worked hard on expanding branches and programs. She’s the one that got the ball rolling.”
Fukai said she expressed interest in Hoffman’s position once he had announced his retirement because she “enjoyed the support of the entire staff.” She was hopeful the board would choose her because of her experience.
“I think I was perhaps favored because I grew up with the department,” Fukai said. “I knew the law and I knew the operation.”
She said the transition has been easy and she is “very proud and very happy that the decision was made quickly” so the department did not go through an interim.
Fukai said she believes in “bottom-up management” revolving around teamwork. Supervisors handle cases so the deputies see them in court and, Fukai said, her door and Hoffman’s door were always open.
Deputies said they were pleased with Fukai’s appointment
“When she got the job everyone breathed a sigh of relief that someone who had so much experience with the office was picked,” Van Nuys chief deputy Tom McLarnon said. “She was everyone’s number one pick.”
“She is an outstanding attorney in her own right,” Deputy Vito Caruso said. “She’s very supportive of us. She remembers the stresses and tribulations of being a trial attorney.”
Glenn Rubin, a team manager who supports a group of lawyers in the central division of the office called her an “exceptional leader.” In addition to her good nature he said “we can see she appreciates us.”
“[Fukai has] always had an open door policy and she extends it to everyone in the office,” Central Branch Head Deputy Bruce Brodie said.
“She’s a great listener...[you] walk away feeling like you’ve had a great conversation with her and she didn’t say a word,” Russo said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company