The President of the Monroe County Legislature Sabrina LaMar announced Robert Ross Fogg will be the new Public Defender.
The announcement comes months after critics voiced their concerns about the selection process.
City News reported, acting Public Defender Jill Paperno, informed the office that she was stepping down after being told by a committee tasked with selecting a permanent public defender that she was no longer in contention for the job.
“That kind of was a gut punch to everyone,” said Johnny Castellanos, a lawyer in the office. “We were all shocked, we had no idea about this process, nor that this is where we were at in the process.”
Within hours, Castellanos and other lawyers in the office said, senior attorneys began drafting a letter detailing their disappointment in Paperno being out of the running and urging a more transparent process for selecting their next boss.
According to Rochesterfirst.com, Political insiders tell News 8 that Paperno had publicly disagreed with LaMar on an issue that ultimately prompted LaMar and other Democrats to create a breakaway caucus.
“It’s hard to not see old politics playing out here,” King said. “The process, most of it, has been handled behind closed doors and changed multiple times since its inception in January and we’ve only seen one public event where the community was actually able to come and speak openly and even just to get a chance to hear from the candidates themselves.”
A concerned resident also sent an email to legislatures that stated the following:
"Please restart the Public Defender Selection Process! Selecting the best Public Defender at this time in our county’s history is crucial.
Having attended a number of court sessions in recent months as part of the Judicial Observation Project, I saw how public defenders are often the only shot that many poor citizens, especially Black and Latino people, have at justice. These indigent citizens come inside the forbidding courthouse walls just to be ground down bit by bit by the wheels of justice. For them the courthouse is a foreign culture, and they need a great translator. Someone who will explain procedures to them, someone who knows from experience how to not take a plea bargain, if the client is innocent. They need someone who can assess whether the arrest and charges were made in a constitutional manner, and someone who will give their all to their client’s defense. Too many people, especially Black and brown people, are thrown again and again into the gears of injustice, and lives are ruined that could have been productive. From Day 1, the Public Defender should know how to deal with this.
For Public Defender we should be looking for someone will lead others in this effort. They should not just have strong defense attorney experience but should be a huge advocate for turning systems around. They should be someone who is going to creatively address the lack of Public Defenders who are Black and brown. They should also be someone with known “people skills” to uplift and advance the office. It is an important search.
But the Public Defenders Office already has some fine and experienced people who should be seriously considered. So it was disturbing that the current Interim Public Defender Jill Paperno, an esteemed attorney of considerable renown, wasn’t even on the finalist list. Was this a political slight? The optics are certainly bad.
It was also disturbing to hear that the candidate selection process did not allow for discussion of the candidates amongst the committee. Why is there a need for a secret ballot among a handful of people? That sets up the opportunity for secretly prejudicial voting. Why not have open debate about who you want and why?
There were questions about how the committee was selected in the first place. In 2008 after the controversy with Tim Danaher’s selection as Public Defender, the Monroe County Bar Association spent about a year carefully coming up with a fair selection process for the Public Defender. Why, in a time when things take on such political intensity, was their advice ignored?
I attended the last “public forum” on Monday, April 18. It was the first time I was aware of being able to give any input. I thought it was going to be a forum on the whole selection process, but all we were allowed to do was to question four people who were already finalists. I felt blindsided.
It is time for government functions to take on a new transparency. Things hidden from fresh air and light tend to rot and die. The person selected as Public Defender should not have the burden of being seen as a political choice.
If our legislators have the will, It is possible to start this process from the ground up, with a new committee selection that doesn’t feel tainted. This might start to restore some confidence in our elected officials. It would put whoever is chosen in a much better position to help those they are called to serve…There are lives at stake here. Our indigent citizens need the best help - that money can’t buy."
According to the email thread, Albert Blankley responded,
"If someone else has responded to you and this is duplicative I apologize
Thank you so much for reaching out. The Democratic Caucus is completely aligned with your position regarding the process and a need for us to revisit this approach as it seems that it has not resulted in the most qualified applicants advancing. And given the lack of transparency we share your concerns that something else may be afoot. The only way to address those concerns is by starting this process over. We are actively advocating for this.
I would also encourage you, if you're so inclined, to speak at the Public Safety Committee Meeting on Tuesday at 5:30 and /or at the full Legislature meeting on 5/10 at 6:00 PM. Every member of the public who speaks at these meetings helps to apply pressure to change the direction we're headed in. You can sign up to speak at both by emailing the clerk of the legislature David Grant at DGrant@monroecounty.gov.
Thank you for reaching out to the city legislators. Please don't hesitate to follow-up with any of us."