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2-1 vote terminates Maryland’s chief Public Defender

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Last night, a 2-1 vote of the Board of Trustees of the Maryland Public Defender System terminated Nancy Forster, the state’s chief Public Defender since 2001. I was a Maryland public defender lawyer for five years, until 1996. Nancy joined the office as a law clerk in 1984, later became chief of the appellate division, and then moved to the helm of the statewide agency.

The details of the termination vote are fuzzy, other than the below brief separate statements from Ms. Forster and T. Wray McCurdy, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Public Defender System.

Nancy has been selfless in sharing her wisdom and experience with all criminal defense lawYers in Maryland. Nancy — and her two public defender appellate colleagues who joined in the oral argument brainstorming session — was totally selfless, devoted, and delightful in collaborating with me on my appeal that was joined with hers, leading to the spectacular landmark double jeopardy decision in Maryland v. Taylor, et al., 371 Md. 617, 810 A.2d 964 (2002).

I am keeping my ears opened about whether this termination is challenged in or out of court.

HERE IS NANCY FORSTER’S STATEMENT, taken verbatim from the WBAL website:

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

As a result, I am being terminated after twenty-five years of unblemished public service to the Office of Public Defender.

Apparently a meeting of the Office of Public Defender Board of Trustees was held (Thursday) night, in violation of the Open Meetings Act, where vote was taken and two members voted for termination, with the lone African American member dissenting.

The mission of the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) is to provide superior legal representation to indigent defendants in the State of Maryland by safeguarding fundamental individual rights and ensuring access to the guaranteed protections afforded by the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Maryland Constitution and Declaration of Rights, and the laws of Maryland.

Nancy S. Forster, Maryland Public Defender

HERE IS THE STATEMENT OF T. WRAY McCURDY, taken verbatim from the WBAL website:

At 1:15 p.m. (Friday), the Board of Trustees of the Public Defender System for the State of Maryland informed Nancy F. Forster by letter that her services as Public Defender of the State of Maryland are no longer required.

Effective immediately, the Board has appointed Elizabeth L. Julian Acting Public Defender for the State of Maryland.

State law prohibits the Board or any member of the Board from commenting further on this personnel matter.