ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — After more than seven months, Monroe County is one step closer to having a new Public Defender, officials with the county legislature announced Wednesday afternoon.

Monroe County Legislature President Sabrina LaMar made her choice for the defender in a press conference shortly after 2 p.m. and encouraged the Monroe County Legislature to vote alongside her.

To formalize the decision, the Legislature must vote, which LaMar said will happen “shortly.” She did not give an exact date.

As of June, two candidates had been identified for the position. In Monroe County, the Public Defender is appointed by County Legislature for a term of two years.

Julie Cianca is a candidate who has served as a public defender before. The other current candidate is Robert Fogg, who’s worked in Buffalo in the areas of criminal law, immigration, and personal injury.

LaMar chose Fogg as her vote for the new defender. He would be the first person of color to run the Public Defender’s office in Monroe County, LaMar said.

All seven members of the selection panel — a panel chosen by both the Democratic minority and Republican majority within the legislature, as well as a variety of other organizations including the Black BAR association — unanimously voted for Fogg as their first choice in both decision-making rounds, LaMar said.

“Before we get started, I want to remind everyone that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us,” LaMar said at the beginning of the conference, emphasizing that she stands on the shoulders of “the late and great” Assemblyman David Gant.

Gant was arrested in 2008 for standing in opposition to “the flawed and politicized selection of the Public Defender’s office,” she said.

The Public Defender is responsible for providing legal counsel for those accused of criminal misconduct who cannot currently afford private defense, regardless of whether the accused is in custody.

Before announcing her vote for Fogg, LaMar highlighted the changes made to make the process more transparent and democratic.

“Time and time again, I have heard complaints about the lack of compassion, empathy, and understanding [from the office],” LaMar said. “Community members have expressed concerns with the Public Defender’s office representation of defendants. Youth at the children’s detention center express that they never hear from their lawyers, and rarely understand court proceedings. These things need to change, and the change must happen now.”

The past three public defenders have been promoted from within, LaMar said, highlighting that while internal promotion is “not necessarily a bad thing,” Fogg has been chosen for his ability to bring a new perspective and assess the office as an outsider.

Fogg has run his own law firm since 2008 and currently serves as the Conflict Defender in Niagara County.

The previous public defender, Tim Donaher, retired in late 2021. The process to replace him has taken longer than most want, with political issues affecting the decision-making process.

“At times, it has seems as though politics has taken precedent over the individuals that office serves,” Lamar said. “Today, we have an obligation and an opportunity to change this. Mr. Fogg is non-political. He has never run for office. Instead, he has spent his life in the trenches, representing the least amongst us. I’ll say it again: Mr. Fogg is not involved in politics in Monroe County. He has no ties to either party. His only loyalty will be to the people who are served by the Public Defender’s office.”

Full press conference

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