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Commissioner Commissioner Commissioner Commissioner Commissioner Re:
Kathy Brinkman Louis Sirkin John Issenmann Ross Wright William Gallagher
Hamilton County Public Defender's Office
Dear Commissioners: In December 2011, Commissioner Kathy Brinkman, called me on behalf of the Hamilton County Public Defender Commission. During the call, Commissioner Brinkman provided some history regarding the Hamilton County Public Defender's Office. I learned that the Hamilton County Public Defender'S Office has been seen as an underachieving office and that there were organizations demanding change in that office including changes in leadership and management. Reportedly, state funding for the Office was in jeopardy if remedial actions weren't taken. I further learned that in response to these calls for change, the Hamilton County Public Defender Commission had recently replaced long time public defender Louis Strigari and had hired Shelia Kyle-Reno in his place. The Commission had given Ms. Kyle-Reno the charge of "changing the culture of the office." Over the ensuing ten months, the Commission became aware of considerable tension and discord within the Office and was seeking an independent assessment as to whether this level of dissatisfaction and unrest was an expected bi-product of culture change, or if there were flaws in the new management style, implementation, and leadership capacity. Commissioner Brinkman advised that the full Commission was seeking a one-year assessment of Ms. Kyle-Reno's effectiveness. Specifically, the Commission asked if I would be willing to: ... conduct an evaluation and assessment of the style, personality, and effectiveness of the management personnel in the office ... I agreed to conduct the assessment at no charge (other than reimbursement for my travel and hotel expenses). I began my work in late December 2011.
In preparation for the evaluation, I learned that during the last several years the Hamilton County Public Defender's Office has been evaluated and assessed multiple times. I reviewed those assessments including the July 2008 report prepared by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the December 2008 report prepared by the Ohio Justice Policy Center, the February 2009 Report of the Hamilton County Public Defender Task Force, and the July 2010 Report for the Ohio State Bar Foundation. This Office has been thoroughly assessed and reassessed. Those reports contain thoughtful recommendations that if implemented would improve the quality of legal services the Hamilton County Public Defender's Office provides to clients. In addition, I reviewed a number of internal documents to include Organizational Structure charts; Policy and Procedures Manual; Class and Salary Structure; Cost per Case analysis; Performance Evaluations; Strategic Plan; MOU between the Hamilton County Public Defender Office and the Board of County Commissioners; Rotation Panel documents; and the office training calendar.
Employee Surveys Prior to my two site visits, I prepared a sixteen-question employee survey that I asked Ms. KyleReno to distribute to staff [See Appendix A]. During my first site visit J observed the drop box for these surveys had been wrapped with a slit in the top to insert the survey. I was told that the box was wrapped because employees feared that management would open the box each night-read the surveys--and then retaliate against the staff member if survey responses reflected poorly on the office. In addition, during my first site visit, a significant number of employees told me they were afraid to talk to me for fear that they were being watched and that the management would retaliate. I received 36 completed surveys during my first visit-less than one third of the staff. To increase staff participation, I hosted the survey on my Knoxville, Tennessee office web site. informed and encouraged employees to log on to my web site and take the survey anonymously. Fewer than 10 surveys came in via our website. Site Visits A. First Site Visit January 7-10, 2012
As a part of the evaluation I conducted two site visits. On the first site visit, I pre-selected staff members to interview. On the second visit, I invited staff that preferred to speak with me individually to meet with me. Management was not aware which staff members requested an off-site meeting. During my first visit I conducted eighteen (18) individual interviews, including Public Defender, Sheila Kyle-Reno and her Deputy, Dan James. In addition, I interviewed office directors, Jack Herbert, Timothy Cutcher, Robert Hastings, Christopher Laber, Kim Helfrich and Elizabeth Miller. Further, I interviewed the Assistant Director of Specialized Court, Christine Patel; the Office Manager, Michelle Smith; the Director of IT, Debbie Haufman; the Director of HR, Diane Snowden; the Assistant Director of Court Services, Steven Johnson; the Assistant Director of the Trial Unit, Frank Osborne; the Assistant Director of the Juvenile Unit, Michelle Temmel; the Officer Manager of the GAL Division, Mary Ann Nagel; and the Assistant Director of the GAL
Division, Nate Bell. In addition, at Bob Hastings request, I Interviewed a lawyer currently assigned to the Municipal Division, Susannah Meyer. In addition to the eighteen (18) individual interviews, I conducted six (6) group interviews consisting of: Trial Unit staff attorneys; Municipal Division staff attorneys and Municipal Court Team Leaders; Interviewers and Interviewer Supervisors; Second and Third floor support staff, Jail Phone support staff and 20/20 support staff; Courtroom Room A support staff; and all social workers and social work supervisors. A[I interviews focused both on management capacity and management style. The information provided in individual interviews and six (6) group meetings during my first site visit was overvvhelmingly negative. It is important to note, that these eighteen staff members are the management team at the office. In both individual and group interviews, themes surfaced quickly with regard to management capacity: impatience; general distrust; lack of communication and networking skills; an inability to articulate a vision; failure to prioritize needs; lack of team building skills; and lacking the capacity to develop relationships and allies; Likewise, themes surfaced with regard to Ms. Kyle-Reno's management style: not being visible; oullyinq and demeaning staff; vulgar and rude behavior; too aggressive; close-minded and autocratic; failing to solicit input; not considering all relevant information before making decisions; and micro-managing minutia. 8. Second Site Visit January 22~23, 2012
On Sunday, January 22, 2012, and Monday, January 23,2012, I made a second site visit to the Office. Interviews conducted that Sunday were at the request of the staff member and off site to minimize the high level of anxiety exhibited during the first site visit and to provide a degree of anonymity. I interviewed twelve (12) individuals on that second Sunday visit, ten (10) of whom expressed extreme dissatisfaction with leadership and management. Their complaints reflected the same themes from my first visit. Frequently as I spoke to employees at the Hamilton County Office, they indicated that Ms. KyleReno wants the office to be "client-centered." But when I asked employees to define what "client-centered" means, they struggled to come up with a response. Almost every staff member told me that Ms. Kyle-Reno's stated goal for the Hamilton County Public Defender's Office is to be "the best law firm in the country." Staff reported not being motivated by that goal. They point out that lacking the most basic tools (e.g., private offices where they could conduct confidential communications with clients, computers, software, a case management system, investigative assistance, reasonable caseloads) no leader could seriously believe her stated goal is attainable. Many told me they view the challenge as unattainable and even insulting. During the evening hours of my second visit, I met with Ms. Kyle-Reno for a second interview. specifically asked her about some of the information I had received, giving her an opportunity to respond to the criticism. Ms. Kyle-Reno indicated that the Public Defender Commission had expressed a strong desire for her to bring structure to the office. Included in that new structure would be employee evaluations, training, better relations with the client community, increased fairness with regard to employee interactions, and more office independence. Ms. Kyle-Reno reported that interim director Tom Roddinghouse had prioritized the immediate office needs at tile time of transition to include: 1. Creating an office policy manual; 2. Developing training
policies; and, 3. Implementing an employee evaluation process. She indicated that all three were currently in place. During this second interview I asked Ms. Kyle-Reno to list her successes during her first ten (10) months on the job. She indicted that her new office hires were of a higher quality. Further, she indicated the quality of representation had improved as a result of office training, case-reviews, and a more focused discussion of cases. She further indicated that in 2010, the office did not create and maintain files for clients and their cases, but now they do. In addition she indicated that working as a team had greatly improved the quality of representation. I asked Ms. Kyle-Reno to identify the office's biggest problems. In response, she cited a failure to get her message out; the ability of her staff to go directly to a member of the Public Defender Commission to voice complaints (thereby undermining her authority and office structure); and a deficient infrastructure lacking a meaningful way to meet as a staff or effectively communicate with staff in different locations. On Monday, January 23,2012, I visited Court Room A. I sat in on interviews with public defenders and their clients in the jail. Following my morning in Courtroom A, I went across the street and observed Judge Martin and Judge Greenberg's courtrooms. During recesses I spoke with both judges in chambers. I then visited juvenile court and the public defender facilities at that location. In addition, a private attorney who had been removed from the appointment list submitted his views regarding his removal from this list. One significant recurring complaint reported to me by staff was that early in Ms. Kyle-Rena's tenure, she met with staff and promised to meet with each individual staff member. During this initial meeting it was reported that she told staff she valued them as employees and wanted to hear from them and what they thought needed to be done in the office. To a person, staff reported how daunting they thought that would be and gave Ms. Kyle-Reno credit for her willingness to undertake such a time consuming task. Staff expressed an initial feeling of being valued by Ms. Kyle-Reno's plan to meet with them individually. To a person, they expressed great disappointment that Ms. Kyle-Reno reneged on that promise. I told Ms. Kyle-Reno of these reports and asked her for her explanation. She denied ever promising to meet with staff individually, instead telling me that she advised staff she had an open door policy and that if anyone wanted to meet with her individually, they could schedule an appointment.
Public Defender Leadership-Agency
Leadership and organizational functioning were the focus of my evaluation. During my time at the Hamilton County Public Defender's Office I did not observe a clear understanding of leadership roles and strategies nor a sense of organizational mission, values, and principles. Obviously there is no single model or set of criteria to assure healthy growth and development of a public defender office. However, a collaborative initiative between management and staff-defining the organizational mission and role reciprocity between management and staff-are essential to healthy organizational functioning. The following are lessons learned from my years as a public defender and observations of other effective public defender offices:
Public Defender Leadership While there is no single formula for success as a public defender leader, effective public defender leaders I know share similar skill sets. They:
1. Possess recogni;z:ed skills as a litigator; 2. Are courageous, empathic, loyal, champions for the client; 3. Are people of integrity; 4. Are effective, skilled communicators; 5. Demonstrate a commitment to their office and staff; 6. Are visionaries who clearly communicate their vision for the office; 7. Are coalition builders and reformers. Secondarily, general leadership metrics include leaders who: 1. Possess a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will; 2. Are able to catalyze commitment to the vigorous pursuit of clear and compelling vision; 3. Possess the skills to organize people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of pre-determined objectives; 4. Contribute individual capabilities to the achievement of group objectives and works effectively with others in group settings; 5. Make productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills and good work habits.' Public Defender Office Core Values Organizational values are the core of what your organization is and what your organization cherishes. Values are traits or qualities that are considered worthwhile; they represent an individual's highest priorities and deeply held driving forces and beliefs. Value statements are developed from your values and define how people want to behave with each other in the organization. Your value statements provide a measuring device against which you evaluate all of your actions and behaviors. Your value statements give words and meaning to the values that you decide to Jive by daily. Value statements are declarations about how the Public Defender Office will value clients and community. Value statements describe actions that are the living enactment of the fundamental values held by individuals within the organization. The values of each of the individuals in your workplace, along with their experiences, upbringing, and so on, meld together to form your corporate culture. The values of your senior leaders are especially important in the development of your culture. These leaders have a lot of power ln your organization to set the course and establish the quality of the environment for people." The Knox County Public Defender's Community Law Office (CLO) has a set of core values. They are: • Justice; • Dignity and Worth of Person; • Service; • Effective-empathic communication;
Good to Great, by Jim Collins Develop Your Values and Value Statements Within Your Strategic Framework, by Susan H. Heathfield
• • •
Integrity; Competent representation; and Loyalty.
In thinking through any issue at the CLO, one important question is how the resolution of the particular issue furthers one or more of our core values. An office lacking clearly stated core values will lack management focus, and staff won't respond cohesively to the day-to-day challenges they face. Public Defender Leadership Principles Organizational values are fundamental beliefs on which an organization is built--i.e., the essence of the organization. It follows that organizational principles are guides to behavior. They guide the way employees express their values and influence the results they achieve. At the • • • • • • CLO, the principles that support our value set are: CLO staff actively pursues justice for all clients; CLO staff practice client-centered representation; CLO staff provides holistic representation; CLO staff facilitates close, open communication with clients in an empathic manner; CLO staff behaves and maintains strong adherence to professional ethics and conduct. Client representation by CLO staff demonstrates adherence to high standards of GFailed to demonstrate proactive and ongoing commitment to professional development; • CLO staff subordinates all other professional relationships and pledges unwavering loyalty to the client.
Absent a clear understanding of what you believe as an organization and what actions you will undertake in furtherance of those beliefs, a clear value centered culture will not take shape, and office staff will struggle to find their moral compass. Summary and Recommendations Following the review of extensive materials generated by other organizational assessments of the Hamilton County Public Defender's Office, the review of internal documents provided by the office, two site visits involving nearly thirty individual interviews and six group interviews, the review of anonymous employee surveys, and personal observations of attorneys and other staff in court, it is obvious that the Hamilton County Public Defender's Office is an office characterized by high conflict, mistrust, poor communication, and lack of a shared vision. Twenty-five percent of the Hamilton County Public Defender Office's total staff participated in individual interviews. Seventy-three percent (73%) of management staff described Ms. KyleReno in extreme and negative terms while twenty-seven (27%) describe her in generally positive terms. Eighty-four percent (84%) of non-management personnel portrayed Ms. KyleReno in extreme and negative terms. Throughout my assessment, staff voiced a strong belief that Ms. Kyle-Reno lacked the ability to effectively lead the Hamilton County Public Defender Office. A large majority of staff reported a management and leadership style suggesting significant deficits in the essential public defender leadership skill set. Recurring themes regarding the staffs lack of trust, fear, and targeted reprisals from management were pervasive. It appears obvious to me that staff have lost their collective will to be lead by Ms. Kyle-Reno.
It is important for me to be clear that I am not validating the accuracy of any of the reports from staff or management during my work in Cincinnati. It is, however, impossible to deny that 75% of the Hamilton County Public Defender Office staff interviewed reported a belief that Ms. KyleReno lacks the ability to catalyze commitment to the vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision. Nor did staff ascribe to the belief that Ms. Kyle-Reno has the leadership capacity to organize people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of pre-determined objectives. I am aware, that this expressed level of discord comes from a staff that has been routinely assessed as dysfunctional and underachieving. While staff are offended by these labels, my. assessment suggests there are a number of staff, including management personnel, for whom these characterizations seem appropriate. It is possible that the level of discord has been overstated in the hope of returning to old processes and behaviors and that a form of mutiny is occurring in the office. Conversely, Ms. Kyle-Reno, indicated that the Commission had charged her with the responsibility of "changing the culture of the office." That process, it seems to me, requires a clear understanding of what the culture was and what the leader wants the culture to become and how to obtain staff commitment. I do not think that there currently exists an effective strategy to bring about this culture change, one that includes the full participation and buy-in of the management team and staff. Unfortunately, there are members of the management team and staff who do not hold public defender values, The efforts to implement a structure, though obviously needed, have supplanted efforts to develop a redefined organizational culture. Management has created a much needed Policy and Procedures Manual. In addition, policies have been developed regarding employee evaluations, work hours, excused/unexcused leave, dress, and lunch hours, to name a few. While structure is needed, if developed within the context of organizational values, principles and standards, structure can be more coherent. By failing to provide context, structure is seen simply as change by those in power, increasing staff resistance to change. Ms. Kyle-Reno indicated that there have been improvements in the quality of representation provided by the office as a result of better office training, conducting case-reviews, and more focused discussion of cases. However, no line attorney in any interview mentioned casereviews or a "focused discussion of cases" as being of help to them as professionals, or increasing the quality of their representation. Furthermore, while not all staff members I interviewed commented on office training, half of those who did, commented in a negative way as it not being sufficiently focused to meet their needs. Ms. Kyle-Rena's assessment of the office's "biggest problems" was troubling. The Hamilton County Public Defender Office has lawyers who lack, to an embarrassing degree, the very basic tools needed to be effective: individual offices, computers, sufficient investigative assistance, significant case files, and filing systems, and a case management system to track case developments and conflicts. It seems inconceivable, even shameful, that in the 21st century there is a public defender office in a metropolitan area such as Cincinnati where lawyers, representing individuals whose liberty is at stake, lack the most basic and essential tools. No other problem should be addressed until an effective strategy has been developed and implemented to address these deficiencies. In light of these findings, it is obvious that change needs to occur. This Commission needs to either make a change in leadership, or develop and oversee the implementation of a plan to
address current management deficiencies. Whatever course selected should include the Public Defender as well as her management team. This Commission should assess with Ms. KyleReno her willingness, and ability, to redirect her efforts to gain the support of her staff. Assuming that threshold can be crossed, I would recommend the following immediate steps be taken: 1. That critical evaluations should immediately take place to determine if the right people are on staff and in the right positions within the office (a process described in Good to Great as, "getting the wrong people off the bus and the right people on the bus"). 2. That the Hamilton County Public Defender Office should institute a process to review and articulate its mission, values and principles. It is unclear to me whether Ms. Kyle-Reno and her management team have developed a value statement for the office. If they have, those values aren't displayed anywhere I could see in the office, nor are they a part of the day-to-day dialogue by staff or management. A value statement would provide context for staff. If Ms. Kyle-Reno has been charged with the task of "changing the culture of the office" it would be helpful for her and her staff to attempt to clearly define what the culture in the office under Lou Strigari's leadership was, and what the culture under Ms. Kyle-Reno will become. Similar to the noticeable absence of a value statement, it is unclear to me that Ms. KyleReno and her management team have defined and clearly articulated the principles guiding the behavior of staff. If they have, they haven't displayed those principles, nor are those principles a part of the day-to-day dialogue by staff or management. The Hamilton County Pu blic Defender Office has over 120 employees. The reality is that each one of those employees "speak for the office" in various capacities. An effective leadership strategy would be to develop, and then respect, the independent professional judgment of staff. At the same time, leadership must define, albeit loosely, what the office wants to communicate to the criminal justice system specifically and to the community at large. A process where staff participate in the review of their mission statement, identify their values, and define their principles and standards would promote consensus and commitment. 3. That all attorneys should have private offices
Immediate efforts should be undertaken to assure that all attorneys have private offices. This may result in the re-assignment of current staff with private offices, even management, to cubicles and attorneys to private offices. All unassigned offices, including the mothering room, the case review room, and the resource room, should be immediately turned over to staff attorneys with case loads; 4. That all computers assigned to non-lawyer staff--including management-was well as all computers currently in the resource room, mothering room, case review room, and any other rooms not occupied by staff attorneys, be assigned to case load carrying lawyer staff; 5. That a professional development program be implemented, training, as well as continuing education in client-centered attorneys; including administrative representation for
6. That an internal IT Department be created and that local. on-site, servers be acquired and all Public Defender Caseload data be maintained and stored on site. In addition, a fully functional case management system be acquired; 7. That the Courtroom A interview process immediately cease until there is provided the capacity for lawyers to conduct confidential client interviews. It is not appropriate behavior for a lawyer to waive a client's right to confidential communication with his lawyer because there are system limitations that preclude confidentiality. If the jail lacks the capacity to offer confidential communications, the Public Defender attorneys should abide by their ethical obligations and refuse to participate in that process. 8. That the courtroom provided by Judge Steve Martin, and designated for use by the Public Defender Office, be upgraded by PD Office staff (on Saturday workdays) including fixing the plaster, painting, cleaning. outtlttlnq-eand staffed and used on a daily basis as a "remote home base" for assistant public defenders and staff in the courthouse.
Though this was difficult work, I enjoyed it and learned a great deal. I appreciate the Commission's cooperation and professionalism during these last several months. If I can be of any further assistance, please don't hesitate to call on me. Sincerely,
Mark Stephens District Public Defender Knox County Public Defender's Community Law Office
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