Orange County Public Defender Ron Butler received a 4% ($2,822) annual pay raise from the Board of Supervisors this week--but not before he had worked several months longer than other county department chiefs in order to get it.
Last July, Butler was the only county department head who refused to sign an employment contract that might have made it easier for supervisors to fire such high-ranking officials.
Butler contended at the time that the proposed contract offered him little job security, and pointed out that the board is occasionally at odds with him over his representation of criminal defendants.
The situation posed the possibility of a conflict of interest, Butler reasoned, pitting his ethical obligations against his concern for pleasing the supervisors.
Several years ago, for example, the board was outraged by the public defender's decision to advise a murder defendant not to incriminate himself in talks with law enforcement officials who had flown to the East Coast to question him.
The incident took place before the defendant had sought legal help and before he had qualified financially for the services of the public defender's office. While the board was unhappy with the conclusion, it accepted a county report that cleared the public defender's office of wrongdoing.
This week's pay hike brings Butler's salary to $73,376 a year, about $5,000 lower than the amount he was offered at the time he refused to sign a contract.
The board decided to grant Butler a raise along with many other county employees who were granted routine raises this year. The increase was made retroactive to July.