Committee recommends Cianca, Fogg as public defender finalists 


The committee at the center of a controversial process to select the next Monroe County public defender has recommended two candidates as finalists.

Julia Cianca, who has worked as a public defender for 25 years, and Robert Fogg, a criminal defense and civil law attorney from Buffalo, are the two finalists to lead the office.

The interview committee recommended them to County Legislature President Sabrina LaMar, who established the panel and appointed five of its seven members.

Under county law, the full Legislature is responsible for appointing the public defender, who serves for two-year terms. In a statement released Thursday, LaMar said she’ll be discussing the next steps with legislative leaders, which will include meeting and interviewing Cianca and Fogg.

“I look forward to receiving the final full report from the Panel that will detail their criteria, processes, and other pertinent details that will be shared with members of the Legislature and the Community as we move forward in making the final determination,” LaMar said in the statement. “This has been the most open process the Legislature has conducted in decades and I am confident that this Legislature will deliver the best possible Public Defender for our community.”

But an anonymous letter that stated it was from 30 attorneys in the Public Defender’s Office criticized the process, which unfolded largely out of public view.

“We believe that the most critical characteristic of the next public defender is their demonstrated commitment to indigent defense,” the letter read. “The best person to lead our office will be someone who has been in the trenches of indigent criminal defense …”

“However,” the letter later continued, “the selection process for the next Monroe County public defender was not designed to find this person.”

The attorneys and some community activists were particularly alarmed by the committee’s decision to pass over Jill Paperno, who has been with the office since 1987 and is currently its acting leader, while keeping Sara Valencia on the four-person list of candidates who were to advance to the next step in the process. Valencia lacked criminal defense experience, but has worked as a support magistrate in Family Court, a municipal attorney, and an assistant district attorney.

Nathan Van Loon, the attorney LaMar tapped to lead the interview committee, said Thursday that deliberations needed to be held out of the public eye because the committee members were essentially dealing with personnel issues.

Van Loon also argued that there was some urgency to concluding the process.
By May 10, the office will have been without a permanent leader for 130 days, he noted.

“It’s been a while now,” said Van Loon, who wanted the committee to make its recommendations to LaMar by Friday so that the choices could be presented to Legislature committees Monday and Tuesday.

If that happens, the full Legislature would likely vote on the choices at its May 10 meeting, unless a special meeting is set regarding the appointment.

This article has been updated to correct an error regarding Sara Valencia's work history.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at [email protected].


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