RIVERSIDE – Riverside County Public Defender Gary Windom and one of his senior staff attorneys were discharged today for reasons not immediately disclosed.
Deputy public defenders were informed about their boss’s status during a countywide video conference not open to the public, said an attorney who asked not to be identified.
County Executive Office spokesman Ray Smith confirmed that Windom and Assistant Public Defender Peter Scalisi, who heads the office’s Capital Cases Unit, were ”no longer employed as of today” but did not go into details, citing human resources policy.
Windom, 62, was appointed to head the Office of the Public Defender in 1999. Earlier this year, a complaint against him was lodged with the State Bar.
A 24-page letter submitted by Chatsworth attorney Paul Virgo, purporting to contain statements from current and former deputy public defenders, alleged that Windom suffered from frequent memory loss, had turned a blind eye to sexual harassment and other problems in his office and had summarily discharged employees he perceived as disloyal.
The letter suggested Windom’s practices put indigent defendants relying on his agency for legal representation at risk of receiving ineffective counsel.
In August, the State Bar sent a letter to the county saying that after reviewing the allegations, it determined ”there are insufficient grounds for disciplinary action.”
The decision was made after Los Angeles attorney Ed Zappia conducted a county-commissioned investigation into the complaints and filed a response with the State Bar on Windom’s behalf.
Zappia’s inquiry found no grounds for disciplinary action against the public defender.
Windom made his last appearance before the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 11 during a budget hearing.
At the time, he protested a provision in the county’s 2012-13 fiscal year plan calling for a $3.5 million reduction in his office’s budget, saying the cuts amounted to ”amputations.”
Windom complained that he hadn’t been given an opportunity to discuss his concerns with county Chief Financial Officer Ed Corser or county CEO Jay Orr, having only learned a week before that his office faced a multi-million- dollar reduction. But Corser replied that the public defender had been notified of the plan two months earlier.
According to published reports, Scalisi, who was hired by the county in 2010, was sanctioned by the State Bar for failing to refund thousands of dollars in fees to a client he represented while in private practice. A two- year suspension on his law license was imposed, but the State Bar stayed the action.
However, it recommended disciplinary measures for two driving under the influence arrests, including one in Orange County to which Scalisi pleaded no contest in 2008.