A member of the D.C. Public Defender Service's board of trustees filed suit yesterday in D.C. Superior Court to block what his attorneys called the "unlawful" selection of a new director for the service, but a judge denied the trustee the immediate court order he sought and scheduled a hearing April 19.
The Rev. Msgr. Joaquin A. Bazan sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the 11-member board from taking any actions at a meeting last night to accelerate the hiring of former prosecutor Cheryl Long for the top job in the defender's office or to "retaliate" against staff attorneys who have protested Long's choice, according to documents filed in court.
Superior Court Judge George Mitchell ruled that he "could find no basis" on which to issue the order. He said, "I am going against my emotions and following the law," adding that the "issue is important enough" for a hearing in 10 days.
The selection of Long has set off an uproar in the office, the city agency that represents indigent defendants charged with serious crimes, and both Bazan and staff members have challenged the selection in letters to board Chairman Vincent H. Cohen. Some of the staff and several trustees favored the service's deputy director, Charles Ogletree, for the position.
Cohen yesterday defended the selection as "fair" and said the board "cannot bow to pressure" and will fight Bazan's allegations in court.
Bazan charged in court documents that the selection was made by "secret ballot" at a closed meeting April 2 closed to the public, in violation of the D.C. Open Meeting Law.
Cohen said yesterday that the "meeting was no different than any other meeting ever held by the board . . . and anyone is welcome to come." He said the secret ballot was in line with board policy.