A D.C. Superior Court judge said yesterday that he will no longer appoint lawyers from the city's Public Defender Service to represent indigent defendants in criminal cases because the service discriminates against black lawyers in its hiring practices.
Judge John D. Fauntleroy said in an interview that the office of the U.S. attorney hre was "just as bad" in hiring minorities, then quickly added that its record "may be slightly better" than the public defender's.
"Obviously (they) do not have any fair employment practices that they carry out or are even interest in," Fauntleroy said of both organizations.
In a four-page response to Fauntleroy's charges, made initially in court last Monday, chairman Philip A. Lacovara defended what he called the agency's "strong commitment to equal employment opportunity and to affirmative action efforts . . ."
Principal Assistant U.S. attorney Carl S. Rauh said yesterday that the judge is "obviously unaware of the substantial affirmative action program of the U.S. attorney's office to recruit and hire minorities." Ruth said that this year, the office had received a commendation from the Department of Justice for its efforts in hiring black lawyers.
Fauntleroy has indicated, however, that his dispute over hiring practices is focused on the Public Defender Service. He said in an interview yesterday that he is now preparing a response to Lacovara's letter.
Judges of the Superior Court have the authority to appoint free lawyers for defendants who have been found financially unable to pay an attorney to represent them. The majority of the lawyers appointed as in private practice and are paid on a case-by-case basis with funds provided through the city's Criminal Justice Act.
Lawyers from PDS take court-appointed cases but are paid through funds appropriated by Congress for the District of Columbia.
The bulk of the attorney appointments are made by the judge assigned to sit in arraignment court, where defendants make their first court appearance following arrest.Fauntleroy was the presideing judge in that court on Monday when he first set out his policy on PDS appointments.
Fauntleroy called the PDS attorney present in the courtroom to his bench, as well as the assistant U.S. attorney on duty, and said he wanted to put his statements on the record, according to an official transcript of the proceeding.
"I believe, and I feel, and I have seen it over the years, that they (PDS) have failed to give minorities a fair opportunity to be hired," Fauntleroy said according to the transcript.
"It's just unfair, and I'm just frustrated . . . I'm at my wit's end about it," Fauntleroy said.
As a result, Fauntleroy said, he intended to exercise his discretion and not appoint any PDS lawyers to indigent cases. While the prosecutor's record is "almost as bad," Fauntleroy said. " . . . (I), do not have any discretion with the United States attorneys I have to accept them . . ."
In an interview yesterday, Fauntleroy said he felt PDS had turned down "really competent" black lawyers including some of his law clerks - in favor of graduates of elite law schools from around the country.
"When you're dealing with these community problems (in Superior Court) you need people who understand the community," Fauntleroy said.
In his response to Fauntleroy, Lacovara noted that a recent Howard University study showed that only 1.3 percent of the nation's lawyers are black, and he noted "extremely keen" competition among law firms, corporations and the government for the best candidates.
Lacovara provided the judge with statistics that showed that PDS had made an increasing number of job offers to minority applicants since 1976. This year, he said, five offers were made to minority applicants out of 14 lawyers hired. Two of the minority applicants rejected the PDS offer, a PDS spokesman said.