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Federal public defender loses job


Fred Warren Bennett, the federal public defender for Maryland, says a leaked internal memo that criticized some federal court procedures may have cost him his job.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Feb. 5 not to reappoint Mr. Bennett, 49, to a fourth four-year term in the federal defender's Baltimore office. His term ends June 30.

Samuel W. Phillips, executive of the 4th Circuit, said the appellate court judges have instructed him to begin seeking a replacement to head the 27-member staff that includes 13 lawyers who represent indigent people. Mr. Phillips would not say why the judges decided to seek someone else for the position.

Mr. Bennett, who receives $109,000 a year in the post, said he was surprised by the move. But he suggested that the judges were reacting to an internal office memorandum last May 2, which he said criticized criminal procedures in the 4th Circuit.

The memo was meant only for his employees, he said, but his office leaked it to the judges.

Mr. Bennett would not elaborate on what the memo said but indicated that the judges may have interpreted it as critical of them. He said he discovered the leak in December and was called before the 4th Circuit to explain the memo.

Mr. Bennett said his office met all the criteria required for him to be reappointed. He said the guidelines called for the federal public defender to maintain quality representation, commitment and service to clients, and administrative efficiency.

He said that the 4th Circuit, which oversees his office, never has complained about his performance in any of those areas and that he would try to reverse the decision.

"I'm not happy with the decision at all, and one of the reasons I'm not pursuing another job right now is that I'm trying to evaluate what other remedies I have," he said.

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