2 Firings By Forster Reversed

Chief Public Defender Fired Pair The Morning After She Was Dismissed By Trustees

August 25, 2009|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

State Public Defender Nancy S. Forster fired two senior public defenders on Friday, just hours before she disclosed that she had been terminated the night before by a state oversight board.

Forster's actions as agency chief were reversed the same day by her replacement, underscoring how chaotic Friday was for the 1,000-person agency.

The short-lived firings of Jerri Peyton-Braden, a Baltimore County felony attorney, and David Addison, a Baltimore juvenile defense attorney, came just before the Friday afternoon announcement that Forster had been terminated by the Office of the Public Defender Board of Trustees because she would not comply with demands to overhaul the agency.

Friday morning, Peyton-Braden said she was shocked to receive a telephone call from Forster. "She said, and I quote, 'You serve at my pleasure, and I am not pleased.' "

"I was flummoxed," said Peyton-Braden, an 18-year public defender. She soon learned Addison received a similar call.

Peyton-Braden said she doesn't know why Forster fired the two, though she said she is friendly with two of the three oversight board members, Chairman T. Wray McCurdy, a private defense attorney in Towson, and Margaret Mead, a Baltimore defense attorney. McCurdy and Mead voted Thursday to terminate Forster.

Peyton-Braden said she is considering a lawsuit.

Forster, too, is poised to sue. She has hired prominent Baltimore civil attorney William H. Murphy Jr. and an employment law specialist represent her.

A public defender for 25 years, Forster said the board fired her because she refused to carry out "unlawful and wrongful" acts.

Forster said the board's demands, including dissolving several units and outsourcing some attorneys' work, would have crippled the agency. McCurdy has said the public defender's office has taken on too much of a social mission.

Elizabeth L. Julian, whom the board appointed as acting state public defender Friday afternoon, told Peyton-Braden and Addison that they were not being terminated.

Julian, head of the Baltimore public defender's office, said in a statement to employees Monday that she accepted the acting position "with the stipulation that I was not required to carry out the requested changes during this interim."

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