Temporary Public Defender Installed in Cumberland

Yesterday, I posted a story detailing the two-year drama surrounding our public defender’s office in Cumberland County.

Today, Chief Resident Superior Court Judge, Jim Ammons, issued an Order installing Cynthia Black as “acting public defender” until a permanent choice can be made. You can read the full Order here:

According to Ammons, he doesn’t have a full list of names from which to make a permanent selection:

This is odd, because Bernie Condlin told the Fayetteville Observer a month ago that he was not withdrawing his name from consideration for another appointment:

Condlin said he has not withdrawn his name as a nominee for the job, and if Ammons were to choose him, he would have to consider then whether to accept.

Edit (3-7-19): I spoke with Condlin on March 7, the day after this post went live. Condlin again confirmed that he has not withdrawn his name from consideration.

More Gridlock Expected

Where do we go from here? Probably nowhere:

The current statute governing appointments applies:

The attorneys of Cumberland County voted in October of 2017, fulfilling the requirements of (b)(1). David Smith and Condlin were nominated, and Condlin says he hasn’t withdrawn his name from consideration despite resigning from his “holdover” position.

Ammons seems to disagree, saying in his order that “one nominee remains.” If Ammons gets his way, the local bar will need to vote again and make at least two new recommendations. If the local bar refuses to make new nominations, Ammons will likely stand his ground and refuse to make a permanent appointment.

In addition, the requirements of (b)(2) need to happen: The Administrative Officer of the Courts needs to give Ammons a name. Why this hasn’t happened by now is beyond me. Perhaps Ammons and the Administrative Officer can’t agree on who it should be?

Until this is sorted out, Cumberland County will continue to have a public defender that was not chosen under North Carolina law. This is unfair to the citizens of this county. It’s worse for the attorneys in the public defender’s office that provide the constitutionally-guaranteed right to counsel to those who can’t afford it. They deserve a leader.

Important Update

A few hours after this post went live, I was provided with a copy of this document:

The Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts nominated David Smith on February 14, fulfilling the statutory requirement. Note that this information is absent from Judge Ammons’ Order, filed today.

Judge Ammons has ignored the recommendation of both the Cumberland County Bar and the AOC Director. Instead, he appointed a placeholder and asked for new nominations. Whether the bar will give him what he wants is the story moving forward.

If you don’t like how the table is set, turn over the table.”

– Frank Underwood

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