Questions about transparency in Monroe County Public Defender selection process linger

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The four candidates up for Monroe County Public Defender were put on the hot seat Monday night during a public forum.

Some of the heat stemmed from controversy over the politics and transparency of the selection process.

News10NBC Reporter Stephanie Duprey was at the forum Monday night at the Central Church of Christ on South Plymouth Avenue in Downtown Rochester.

The chairman of the Monroe County Legislature stepped in and said "they wouldn’t be starting from scratch", but that was only one of the community comments.

The four candidates are former assistant district attorney Sara Valencia, Assistant Public Defender Julie Cianca, New Jersey Acting First Assistant Deputy Public Defender Andre Vitale, who previously worked in the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office, and Buffalo criminal defense attorney Robert Fogg.

Community members asked questions about their career backgrounds, how they would make change not only in the community but in law offices, as well as racism in the community. Each candidate expressed how they felt about the controversy around the selection process, hearsay around a private ballot and the narrative that the way they were chosen appears "rigged".

"If there is some kind of consensus that this process was ruined any kind of confidence that either the Public Defender’s Office for the community we serve can feel secure in the outcome then I defer to those who made the decision," Cianca said.

"In all of these things you do have a voice and it needs to be channeled, in the proper way I’m here this evening to put my qualifications for the community," Valencia said.

"Political opinions, I’m going to stay out of that, because even now there shouldn’t be a voice in that, but if you want to do this again, I’ll be sitting right here," Fogg said.

"I will respect whatever the process decides, if they decide that there needs to be a reboot, and they make that decision I’m going to fight just as hard, I’ll be sitting right here if this goes a second time," Vitale said.

The committee is set to meet next week to vote for one of those candidates to present to Monroe County Legislature President Sabrina LaMar.