Tuesday, March 15, 2005 • Healy featured on law magazine cover

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, March 15, 20905 edition of the Lassen County Times.

Former Lassen County Public Defender Toni Healy made the March cover of California Lawyer magazine.

“I have utterly no idea why I made the cover,” said Healy, who is one of 41 “lawyers who made a significant impact in 2004” to receive a Clay Award, which stands for California Lawyer Magazine Attorney of the Year.

The awards in 15 categories were presented March 7 in San Francisco.

“Standing up to a maverick judge is always difficult for a publicly paid attorney,” according to the magazine. “But in a small, rural county such as Lassen, where there are only two judges, it can be especially risky.”

Describing her reaction to the award, Healy said, “I was blown away completely.”

She filed challenges to prevent Superior Court Judge Ridgely from presiding over any case involving clients of the public defender’s office.

Galen Hathaway, a retired judge from Mendocino County, appointed by the Judicial Council of California to hear the case, found Lazard was “biased and prejudiced against Public Defender Healy and other attorneys in her office.”

Hathaway found “court records, transcripts of recorded arraignments, official transcripts, court minutes, sworn statements of defendants and others, all of which indicate that Judge Lazard actively prevented the public defenders from properly representing clients entitled to representation.”

The decision disqualified Lazard from hearing any cases involving the public defender’s office.

“I have not engaged in a pattern of retaliation, of personal harassment or intimidation against the public defender or the clients of the public defender,” Lazard’s answer to Healy’s challenges said.

He denied improperly keeping the public defender from attending arraignments and, in fact, claimed he changed policy to allow the public defender to attend Monday morning arraignments. The court’s policy is to have the public defender and the district attorney present, Lazard’s answer said.

The presenters from California Lawyer said they found Healy’s courage admirable.

“When they gave it to me, they said (the award was) for standing up to a biased judge on behalf of indigent defendants,” said Healy, who retired from the public defender’s office on Dec. 1, 2004.

The March issue of California Lawyer defined the award as recognizing “attorneys around the state whose work has had a profound, far-reaching impact in 2004.” It also said the attorneys honored “changed law, broke new ground … and substantially influenced public policy.”

The other recipients were all from Sacramento, the Bay Area or Southern California, Healy said.

“I’m the only small-town person on this whole thing.”

She also said her work had a lasting impact.

“Something people don’t report on,” she said. “The jail population always hovered around 120. The day I retired it was at 62, half of what it once was; to me that’s an impact. They can spin it any way they want but they can’t take it away from me.”

As far as public reaction to her cover photo, Healy said, “I’ve gotten letters from people I never met saying kudos. I’ve gotten friends who saw me on the cover and were flabbergasted.”

She also said, “I got to meet the chief justice of the California Supreme Court.”

Now working two jobs, Healy serves in the McGeorge School of Law parole advocacy program representing people at parole hearings. She is also a consultant at the Institute for Law and Public Policy.

Even though she’s now famous in the California legal community, Healy has no plans to change her lifestyle.

“I absolutely love it here,” she said. “I wouldn’t leave. My daughter’s happy here; my husband has a great job and where else am I going to get to play principal flute in a symphony. This is just a great community; I love it.”