ANNAPOLIS – Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe said Tuesday that he will “absolutely” seek appointment this spring for another six-year term.
“I love my job and I love this agency,” said DeWolfe, a career criminal defense attorney. “I very much look forward to another six years.”
DeWolfe’s fate will be in the hands of the Board of Trustees of the Office of the Public Defender of Maryland, which first named DeWolfe to the post in December 2009 when he was serving as the district public defender in Mongomery County. DeWolfe succeeded longtime Public Defender Nancy S. Forster, whose controversial firing by the then-three-member board spurred the General Assembly to more than quadruple the board’s membership in 2010.
DeWolfe’s term expires June 1, and the now 13-member board has posted an advertisement for the public defender job in The Daily Record.
DeWolfe, 67, said that during the past six years, he has expanded training programs for staff attorneys, enhanced the forensics division and improved juvenile representation through a partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which works toward eliminating what it calls “inappropriate use of secure confinement and out-of-home placement” for young offenders.
DeWolfe added that his unfinished business is reducing the caseload of the public defender’s office, whose 913 employees serve 165,000 clients statewide on a current annual budget of $98 million.
According to budget documents, the agency will be seeking about $104.5 million from the General Assembly for fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1.
DeWolfe said the caseload reduction can be achieved by increasing his office’s budget, which would enable the hiring of more attorneys and support staff, and decriminalizing minor violations. He cited the decriminalization in 2014 of the possession of fewer than 10 grams of marijuana and replacing the criminal penalty with a civil fine.
The legislature should likewise decriminalize the driving of a vehicle without a license or with a suspended license and make it punishable by a civil fine, he said.
“We don’t need to incarcerate people for these low-level offenses,” DeWolfe said.
Those seeking to replace DeWolfe as chief public defender must be members of the Maryland bar and have practiced law for at least five years prior to appointment, the job advertisement states. They also “must have a demonstrated interest in protecting the rights of indigent clients in criminal matters,” the advertisement adds.
Applicants face a March 1 deadline to submit their paperwork, which includes a letter of interest, professional qualifications and three letters of recommendation, according to the advertisement.
The annual salary is about $154,000.