A member of the board of trustees of the D.C. Public Defender Service yesterday dropped his effort to block temporarily the appointment of a former prosecutor as the agency's new director following a series of private meetings between a Superior Court judge and lawyers representing both sides of the issue.
Judge Samuel Block announced in court that the Rev. Msgr. Joaquin A. Bazan had withdrawn his request for a preliminary injunction after more than three hours of meetings over the dispute. Block also talked with Cheryl Long, a Justice Department attorney who took over as director of the defender service yesterday amid a growing controversy over her appointment by a sharply divided board of trustees.
The meetings culminated in an unusual courtroom statement from Block. The judge said the PDS board -- which had been criticized for selecting Long over the agency's deputy director, a widely respected defense lawyer -- will not try to direct the handling of any of the agency's criminal cases and that there will be no "retaliatory actions" against anyone as a result of the controversy over Long's appointment.
Block said in an interview afterward that the meetings resulted in agreement that Long would not be prevented from assuming her new duties. The two sides also agreed to the judge's statement, but Block said it was not offered as a quid pro quo for Bazan's decision to withdraw his request for an injunction.
Bazan, who contends that the selection of Long was improper because it was made by secret ballot in a closed meeting of the board April 2, filed suit against his fellow board members shortly after that meeting.
Bazan said he will press his lawsuit at a later time in an effort to have Long's appointment overturned.
The staff of the defender service has protested the selection of Long because she is a former prosecutor and has never represented a defendant in a criminal case. The service represents indigent clients charged with serious criminal offenses.
Block said in his statement that, in the future, the agency's director and deputy director will be elected in open board meetings with staff input, and that the board will continue to have a "dialogue" with members of the staff in "important matters."
"I'm very happy," Bazan said after the hearing. "A promise has been made" that the office will not be dismantled, Bazan said in interpreting the judge's statement.
However, board chairman Vincent H. Cohen, who supports Long's appointment, said that the judge's statement was not legally binding and not an acknowledgment of any irregularities in her selection.
After talking with lawyers representing the board, Cohen said, he interpreted the judge's remarks as: "The board will not do these things. They haven't done them in the past, based on the record, so why should they do them in the future?"
The board, by a 6-to-4 vote with one abstention, selected Long to succeed director Francis D. Carter, who resigned to enter private practice. Many defender service attorneys, as well as several judges, favored the agency's deputy director, Charles Ogletree, for the director's post.