Council appoints public defender to police review commission

Council appoints public defender to police review commission

The President of the Richmond Police Officers Association and members of the Police Review Commission are expressing concern over the city council's recent appointment of a public defender’s office attorney Tuesday night.

Rachel Lorber, an attorney at the Contra Costa County Office of the Public Defender, was appointed by the Richmond City Council to fill an open seat on the Community Police Review Commission.

Community Police Review Commissioner Oscar Garcia called Lober’s appointment an extreme conflict of interest. The Contra Costa Public defenders office often submits complaints to the commission on behalf of their clients, Garcia said.

“Everything she learns in closed session could be used to feed lawsuits against the city, and I am concerned that suddenly anything a commissioner says could be used against the city by the public defender’s office,” Garcia posted in an online forum.

The Richmond commission investigates complaints from members of the public alleging excessive or unnecessary force, discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault by on-duty Richmond police officers. The commission also investigates shootings by police or when direct police action leads to death or serious injuries.

According to Lorber’s heavily redacted commission application, her work as a public defender provides a view of the inner workings of the carceral system. Her clients’ experiences are a constant reminder of the need for police accountability and the pursuit of racial justice.

RPOA president Ben Therriault questioned why Lorber's application was heavily redacted.

“As a member of the Richmond community, and as someone whose work involves advocating for other members of the Richmond community, I have a strong interest and investment in bettering our home by making it safer for everyone,” Lorber wrote.

The new commissioner graduated from Bishop O’Dowd High School, holds a BA in Sociology from Cal Polytechnic State University, and a Juris Doctor from UCLA School of law. She has lived in Richmond for almost two years.

Ben Therriault, president of the Richmond Police Officers Association, shared his concerns about possible ethical and legal issues that may arise from a member of the Public Defender’s Office on the commission.

“What are their obligations to their clients, and what would they do with Richmond police officers in their capacity on the Community Police Review Commission?” Therriault said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “We just want to make sure there was a full legal review of it.”

Ben Therriault, president of the Richmond Police Officers Association, pulled the appointment item from the consent calendar.

During the public comment section, Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force Chair Debra Small called Therriault’s concerns of bias incredibly ironic.

“He has been sitting on the task force for over two years and has never missed an opportunity to malign, disparage, criticize, obstruct, and otherwise undermine its work,” Small said. “So if it is not a problem for him to do that, there certainly shouldn’t be a problem to have a legal aid attorney on the CPRC.”

City Attorney Dave Aleshire said the city doesn’t bar public defenders from serving on the commission.

“In terms of the ethical standards, if they were included in some way with the matter, there would be an issue,” Aleshire said, adding there was a question if the public defender’s office was involved in a case, but the public defender was not.

“Could there be something arising because their office was included? This might be something they would want them to remove themselves from,” Aleshire said.

View the entire Richmond City Council meeting on YouTube.

Read more