The deputy director of the D.C. Public Defender Service has told the board of trustees that he will leave the agency Aug. 1, and one board source said the decision came after an "acrimonious meeting" in which he was pressured to do so.
Charles Ogletree, who said in April that he would resign this fall, moved up the date after a closed-door board session Tuesday that is the latest episode in the deepening conflict between the board and agency lawyers.
Yesterday, Merinda Davis Wilson, the board's acting chairman, said, "The board denies that it has pressured Charles Ogletree to leave the agency," adding that he had informed the board of his intention to leave last April.
Wilson refused to comment on the closed-door meeting, saying in a telephone interview Tuesday night, "If we had wanted it to be public, we would have held the meeting in public." Under open-meeting laws, D.C. boards may hold "executive" or closed sessions on personnel matters.
But one board source said, "He was pressured, no question about it. Certain members wanted him to leave as early as July 1, but it was decided that was unreasonable."
The Public Defender Service, which is considered one of the best in the nation at providing criminal defense to the poor, has been torn by conflict since April, when the board selected former prosecutor Cheryl Long as director, passing over Ogletree, who had strong support from staff and many D.C. Superior Court judges. Long's appointment has been opposed by many present and former staff members.
The turmoil, according to board and staff sources, has worsened in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Long received an anonymous, typewritten letter on plain unmarked stationery, which she characterized in a June 21 memo to the board as "obscene" and "threatening," according to board sources. It said, according to one source, "Enjoy your tenure because it will be very short . . . . We are currently keeping a record of when you come and go, when you lunch, every mistake you make . . . . "
In her memo to the board, according to one source, Long accused Ogletree of contributing his "tacit approval" to efforts by staff lawyers with the "malicious purpose of damaging my professional reputation." She called on the board to determine the "circumstances and time" of Ogletree's departure and to "move as quickly as possible to recruit" a new deputy "whose actions and motivations are not suspect," according to a board source.
Yesterday, Long said, "I don't think I want to comment on any of it."
In an interview, Ogletree denied that he had condoned any activities to damage Long's reputation. "I am supportive of her and have been in every conceivable forum -- the Congress, the City Council, the court, private sessions with lawyers and community groups." He called the Aug. 1 departure date mutually agreeable and said it would allow him to complete his assignments and "take a break before moving on."
But former agency director Francis D. Carter and two former agency lawyers were critical of the new departure date and the board's actions. "He Ogletree was Long's major link to the legal staff, some of whom aren't speaking to her," said Carter, who added that Ogletree was a "moderating force" in the conflict between the staff and Long.
William W. Taylor III, a former PDS lawyer who has charged that the board is attempting to undercut the agency's prized independence, said its action Tuesday "is another step in an effort to bring the staff to its collective knees."
Six members of the 11-member board are due to retire from the board on June 30, when their terms expire, and Taylor said it is "unseemly" that board members who will end their terms next week "should pressure anyone into doing anything.