California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has fired the state’s widely respected public defender. The San Jose Mercury News says the action has prompted concerns a new appointee will be less committed to the politically unpopular task of defending death-row inmates. Despite a lobbying campaign that included support from California Supreme Court Justice Ronald George, Schwarzenegger fired Lynne Coffin, a Gray Davis appointee who has been credited with resurrecting the reputation of an office that represents more than 100 condemned inmates on appeal.
Coffin failed to persuade the governor to reappoint her, and her chief assistant recently resigned as interim head of the 55-lawyer agency. California has been without a state public defender for three weeks. Coffin, 55, said, “The most important part is that they had no one to put in my job. The worst part is that they don’t even care.”
Terri Carbaugh, the governor’s deputy press secretary, acknowledged that administration officials had made it clear to Coffin that they “had every indication she was doing an excellent job.” Carbaugh said no promises were ever made, and that Coffin’s job was one of hundreds of political picks the governor is trying to fill throughout state government.