Saturday, August 22, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | The board that oversees the Maryland Office of the Public Defender fired agency head Nancy S. Forster on Friday, a decision she said resulted from her refusal to carry out orders “to act in violation of the civil service laws.”

Ms. Forster, who was appointed to lead the office in October 2004, issued a statement criticizing the Office of Public Defender Board of Trustees for voting 2-1 on Thursday to dismiss her.

Board Chairman T. Wray McCurdy confirmed in a statement that the board fired Ms. Forster in a letter and said that state law barred the board from commenting further on a personnel matter.

The office has more than 1,000 employees, including more than 400 lawyers who defend poor state residents.

In her statement, Ms. Forster said she had “been ordered to act in violation of the civil service laws by, for example, terminating the employment of a well-respected African-American district public defender, for absolutely no reason.”

“I have also been asked to perform other unlawful and wrongful acts. And I have refused to do any of these,” Ms. Forster wrote.

“As a result, I am being terminated after 25 years of unblemished public service to the Office of Public Defender,” Ms. Forster added.

She gave no further details, aside from noting that the board’s only black member, who is Theresa L. Moore, voted against her removal. Neither Ms. Moore nor board member Margaret Mead immediately returned calls seeking comment.

Mr. McCurdy wrote that the board had appointed Elizabeth L. Julian acting public defender, effective immediately. Ms. Julian has been one of the 12 district public defenders, each in charge of an area of the state. She was the district public defender for Baltimore.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, appoints the members of the board.

Ms. Forster has bemoaned the effects of budget cuts on her office’s ability to protect the rights of poor criminal defendants. Late last year, she said her office could no longer afford to hire private attorneys when conflicts of interest prevent her office from representing clients.

She also has met with Mr. O’Malley to discuss the budget problems. Mr. O’Malley’s office put out a statement Friday after Ms. Forster’s firing was announced, saying she had met with the governor over the past two years “at her request” to discuss budget matters at the public defender’s office.

“The governor has no comment on today’s personnel action by the Office of the Public Defender Board of Trustees,” the statement said.

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