By Victoria Metcalf
Special to Plumas News
An argument between county counsel and the district attorney during the Plumas County Board of Supervisors meeting Dec. 15 began as a request from incoming District 4 Supervisor Greg Hagwood, who will take office in January.
Hagwood approached retiring Supervisor Lori Simpson, and asked that the board hold off on making a decision to recruit and fill a vacancy in the county counsel’s office until next month. The vacancy was created when Deputy County Counsel Gretchen Stuhr was promoted to fill the vacancy created by County Counsel Craig Settlemire’s retirement.
Although the motion was made to allow Human Services Director Nancy Selvage to continue in pursuit of a new attorney, District Attorney David Hollister asked to comment interrupting a second on the motion. He said he had some concerns about the process. Just prior to this proposal, Hollister had questioned the salary range for the new county counsel and how that was determined.
“This one I do have some issues on,” Hollister told the supervisors, as well as County Counsel Settlemire and the small audience that included both attorneys from the county counsel’s office. “It affects my department.”
Hollister was referring to a move that Settlemire made in July 2019 to take away a contract with a local attorney to handle the Department of Social Services’ needs for juvenile dependency programs in the courts. At the time of the change, Settlemire told supervisors that a recently hired third attorney in his office would spend at least 50 percent of her case time on related issues.
That attorney whose contract was eliminated, Bill Abramson, had handled those cases for approximately $50,400 a year. He was paid for 20 hours a month. With County Counsel’s move to handle these cases, Hollister told supervisors that costs had increased to $108,000 a year and cost taxpayers $420 an hour.
Hollister said that the money comes out of the children’s services fund. The children who are involved in social services and the court system “are the most vulnerable in the county,” Hollister said. “Our taxpayers give us money through social services to look out for them.”
And what the additional costs are doing is depriving valuable services such as transportation and therapy sessions, Hollister added, about the increase in service fees from the county counsel’s office.
Hollister encouraged supervisors to think hard before making a decision.
“It’s frustrating for me…this has impacted some of my cases,” Hollister said.
“Mr. Hollister is entirely misinformed,” Settlemire shot back at the district attorney’s remarks. Among other things, Settlemire said that it cost $240 for his attorney to do the necessary court preparations. “You’re doing your math in reverse order,” he said.
Settlemire said that he had his office take over the child services legal process because the person who was supposed to represent the children had too many conflicts of interest. Since Abramson is also a public defender, Settlemire said that he would need to recuse himself when a child was involved. Settlemire said that conflict dumped the cases onto county counsel’s office to handle.
Settlemire also claimed that Hollister’s statement that child transportation was affected by county counsel’s move was false. Settlemire said that the funds are taken from an entirely different account within social services.
“You don’t know what you’re taking about Mr. Hollister,” Settlemire exclaimed. “You are wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Hollister asked the supervisors to talk with the judges and other attorneys to learn the truth.
Before moving on, Board Chairman Kevin Goss said that he would make an appointment with the judge.
Citing the necessity of quickly moving forward to fill the vacancy created by Deputy County Counsel Stuhr’s promotion, supervisors voted to approve allowing Selvage to fly the position.