Inyo County Board Selects Tom Hardy as New District Attorney
The Inyo County Board of Supervisors concluded an expedited recruitment process on Tuesday, Sept. 3 with the hiring of Tom Hardy to the vacant position of Inyo County District Attorney. Former District Attorney Art Maillet resigned suddenly in July, citing health reasons. His term was set to expire in January of 2015. Maillet, who spent 10-and-a half years as the County’s lead prosecutor, recommended the Board appoint Assistant D.A. Joel Samuels to the position of D.A. for the remainder of Maillet’s term, or until elections in June of 2014. The Board declined.
Instead, at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the Board conducted a lengthy interview process with Samuels, Hardy, and Attorney Jeffrey Greenberg. What emerged over the three and a half hour process was a vision of troubled relations between the District Attorney’s office and other County agencies, as well as a looming challenge to the new District Attorney and the County with the implementation of AB109, an Assembly Bill passed in 2011 designed to move low-level felons to local jails instead of state prisons.
In his opening statement to the Board and public, Tom Hardy stressed that a D.A. “has to be a team player,” not only with the Police Department, Sheriff’s Department, defense bar, and court, but also with the media and the public. Hardy highlighted his experience in criminal law practice in Inyo County. He began as a contract Public Defender in the ‘80s and ‘90s, served as Assistant D.A. from 1997-2002, and as Deputy District Attorney from 2004-2006, and currently practices law through a private practice.
In his letter of interest to the Board, Hardy admitted that he hadn’t thought he would seek a return to the D.A.’s office. He noted in particular that a private practice allows him the opportunity to work in varied areas of law. “However, since leaving, I have become more and more concerned with the operations of the office and I have been saddened to see the office lose much of the respect it once enjoyed,” his letter states. From his outsider’s perspective, he added, “The District Attorney’s relationships with local law enforcement and the court appear to be, at best, strained, and its reputation in the community is probably at an all-time low.”
Joel Samuels agreed in his opening remarks that the D.A.’s office “can do better on some things,” citing relations with the media and the community. But he disagreed with Hardy’s overall assessment of the reputation of the office. “Just talk to the officers, the deputies, and the victims of crime [in the County],” he advised the Board.
Samuels emphasized his record over his eight years in the D.A.’s office as both Deputy and Assistant D.A., noting about an 82% success rate in his 30-plus court trials. Addressing his record as a prosecutor, he said, “People can disagree with me, they can say I drive a hard bargain, but they can’t besmirch my integrity, my honesty and my search for justice.”
While Hardy and Samuels disagreed about the reputation of the current D.A.’s office, they agreed that the County, in addition to struggling with an era of limited finances, faces a significant new challenge in AB109. Hardy characterized the intent of the Assembly Bill as “driving more of the criminal justice system back onto a local level.” What this means for the County, which already fills its jails to capacity at times, is not only an additional strain on finances and resources, but also a challenge in maintaining public safety with a new population of felons, some whom may spend time under mandatory supervision outside of jail, entering the County.
“This means a huge change for the local Sheriff and Probation Department, and changes to the whole bargaining dynamic between the D.A. and public and private defenders,” said Samuels. He explained that many defendants might now prefer taking a full prison sentence, rather than a reduced sentence and probation, if it means going to county jail rather than state prison. At some point, when the incoming population meets the current county capacity, “We’ll have to decide how we deal with local misdemeanors,” he said. “No one in the State has yet fully come to grips with how this has changed our system. We’re going to be in a reactive state for two, three, four years.”
After the interviews, the Board requested any additional public comment before deliberations. Contract Public Defender Mark Johnson argued that “The Board has an opportunity for change with the appointment of a new D.A., [Tom Hardy].” Former D.A. Phil McDowell, who stepped down from office in 2002, also stated his support for Hardy. “I have a lot of respect for Mr. Samuels, but I think Mr. Hardy is by far the best candidate for the office of D.A.,” he said. “Mr. Hardy is the one that is able to achieve the most respect.”
The only note of dissent came from former D.A. Art Maillet. “I didn’t want to be here today, because the Board already knows my position and recommendation,” he said. “I have nothing against Mr. Hardy; he’s a nice man and everything. But when he attacks the D.A.’s office for something to do with my regime, I think that’s a low road.” Maillet maintained that he had no knowledge of any strain on relations between the D.A.’s office, law enforcement and the courts. “I never had law enforcement or Probation come up and complain to me,” he said.
“Mr. Samuels may not be the most popular Assistant D.A. in the community, but he knows how to get the job done,” Maillet concluded. “He will not let victims be without a just resolution for their case.”
After Maillet’s statements, Board members commenced their deliberations. Supervisors agreed that the public selection process for the position was uncomfortable; “I hate this,” Supervisor Rick Pucci said bluntly. “This is a very awkward system. Whoever the Board selects is going to have to stand trial again at election.” However, he added, “I think the D.A.’s office is and will continue to do a tremendous job.”
Supervisor Jeff Griffiths and Chair Linda Arcularius both noted the volume of letters, phone calls and emails they had received from the public regarding the hiring of a new D.A. “In June, the people will have their choice, so really what we’re looking for is a caretaker,” said Griffiths.
The Board approved the motion to hire Tom Hardy as D.A. unanimously. The Board also approved maintaining the current D.A. salary of $121,212. “Thank you mostly to the candidates for putting yourselves in this position,” said Chair Arcularius. “The County of Inyo and its residents can be proud of what happened here today.”