S.B. County Public Defender Quits Post Under Fire
San Bernardino County’s public defender announced Friday that he was stepping down from his post amid mounting criticism from county leaders over his decision to hire an attorney with a criminal history.
Public Defender John Roth said in a statement that he regretted hiring Geoffrey Newman, a criminal defense attorney, who was convicted last year of paying inmates to solicit business for him in the county jails.
“I understand and support the county’s responsibility to hire people who are not only highly qualified, but also meet the public’s high expectations for people who serve in positions of trust,” he said.
Roth plans to return to what he calls his true passion -- defending indigent people as a staff attorney in the public defender’s office -- until he retires in nine months.
Roth’s decision came two weeks after the Board of Supervisors put him on paid administrative leave and debated behind closed doors whether to fire Roth.
Several supervisors said Roth’s decision to hire Newman hurt the county’s efforts to rebuild an image tainted by corruption scandals in the 1990s.
In an interview this week, Newman, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of soliciting business inappropriately and served four months in jail, said he was open about his criminal conviction and was upset that Roth was under fire for hiring him. Newman was fired Jan. 27, four days into his new job.
The Roth controversy came a week after Treasurer-Tax Collector Dick Larsen rescinded a job offer to a local union leader who is under investigation for allegedly developing a personal relationship with the county’s top labor negotiator.
On Friday, County Administrative Officer Mark Uffer said he was glad Roth stepped down, but described him as “a good man and a good trial attorney.” As head of the department, Roth was paid $157,000 plus a car allowance. His salary will drop to $155,000 with no car allowance.
Until a permanent replacement is appointed, the department will be run by Chief Deputy County Counsel Rex Hinesley.