BY RICHARD K. De ATLEY
STAFF WRITER
rdeatley@pe.com

Published: 19 May 2012 05:28 PM

A letter from an attorney to the State Bar of California alleges that Riverside County Public Defender Gary Windom, 62, suffers from memory loss that is affecting his ability to run his office, which represents indigent defendants.

The letter says there are widespread ethical issues inside the office — from turning a blind eye to sexual harassment complaints to discrimination, unfair hiring, promotion, and discipline practices, to management decisions that imperil justice for clients.

The single-spaced, 24-page letter is written by Chatsworth attorney Paul J. Virgo, who said it gathers a series of complaints he has been given about the office.

The letter is accompanied by a deposition transcript from January in which Windom does not recognize the name or identity of an assistant public defender whom he had hired and worked closely with.

The attorney representing Windom’s office in the lawsuit by a former employee “appeared frantic about the need to stop the proceedings” and seemed “surprised and alarmed at his client’s gaping loss of memory” about the assistant, the letter states.

The letter also says that Windom has trouble identifying even long-time attorneys in his office, and has exhibited an inability to remember conversations, or has a sincere belief that conversations took place when they did not.

“Gary Windom…is engaging in behavior that is dishonest, unethical, damaging to the overall interests of the office and the county, and most importantly, placing clients at risk,” the letter states, and that “Windom is suffering from infirmities evidenced by memory loss, poor judgment, and irrational decision making.”

Windom said Thursday May 17 that he has seen the letter, which is dated May 10. Riverside County officials also have a copy and are reviewing it, spokesman Ray Smith said. A California State Bar spokeswoman said the Bar can neither confirm it received the letter, nor say whether there will be any investigation as a result.

“It’s really premature to talk about the point-by-point allegations in the letter,” Windom said. “In our society, anyone can make allegations, and we will review those allegations and respond in the appropriate legal venue, if and when necessary.”

The Public Defender’s office employs about 120 attorneys and has an annual budget of more than $31 million. It has been estimated in recent years that it represents clients in about 65 percent of the felony and misdemeanor cases filed in Riverside County. Windom has been the county’s public defender, an appointed position, for 13 years. The listed annual salary range is $172,299.71 – $310,340.58.

The complaint letter by Virgo is addressed to Acting Chief Counsel Jayne Kim of the State Bar. Virgo wrote that it was based on information he received from at least 18 attorneys. None are identified in the letter, but Virgo wrote that most are associated with the Public Defenders office “and a few others are concerned members of the local legal community.”

The letter also does not identify individuals whose situations it describes. But some of the letter’s accounts, combined with court records, previous news coverage of cases and known personnel moves within the office, make it clear in some cases which individuals are being discussed.

In one instance, the letter said, a supervisor was placed on paid administrative leave for a second driving-under-the-influence arrest in February 2012. But a higher-ranking assistant public defender, also named in two separate DUI charges less than three years apart, “appears to have suffered no consequences whatsoever for his arrest for a second DUI.”

News reports and court records show that the supervisor, Gordon Richard Cox, was arrested on suspicion of DUI in February, and that was preceded by a similar 2008 offense to which Cox had pleaded guilty.

Court records show that Assistant Public Defender Peter Scalisi also had a second DUI arrest, in September 2010 on Lime Street near 14th Street in Riverside.

That was preceded by an Orange County DUI in March of 2008 to which Scalisi pleaded no contest, court records show. In the Riverside case, Scalisi pleaded to a reduced charge because there was a problem proving his blood alcohol level had reached the .08 requirement to be legally drunk, according to court documents.

Scalisi, who heads the Capital Defender’s office, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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