After 10 years at his post, Ventura County Public Defender Kenneth I. Clayman disclosed Monday that he is one of five top candidates for the job of Los Angeles County public defender.
The job, with an annual salary range of $99,873 to $149,809, became vacant in September with the retirement of Los Angeles County Public Defender Wilbur Littlefield. Littlefield had spent 36 years at the largest and oldest public defender's office in the United States, the last 17 as its head.
Clayman, 52, of Camarillo said he loves his work overseeing Ventura County's 37 public defense attorneys. But he could not pass up a chance to direct the nearly 600 attorneys in the Los Angeles County public defender's office who represent "the innocent, the downtrodden and even the despicable."
"I have a wonderful job now," said Clayman, who earns a base salary of $99,000.
"But the Los Angeles office happens to be the largest in the country. There are enormous challenges in running it, and when a person makes a career as I have out of public defendering . . . of course I want to look at it."
Clayman is no stranger to the Los Angeles County public defender's office. He worked there for 17 years before the Ventura County Board of Supervisors appointed him to his current job in 1984.
He was a trial deputy in Los Angeles for the first 10 years, then won promotions to become chief of the juvenile division in 1977 and head of the municipal court division in 1981, he said.
Now he is competing against four other candidates, three of whom have ties to the Los Angeles County public defender's office.
The other candidates are Michael P. Judge, 49, a veteran public defender in the office; David Meyer, 50, the acting public defender in that office; Mark E. Overland, 53, a former deputy public defender in that office and now partner in the Santa Monica law firm of Overland & Gits; and Fresno County Public Defender Jose R. Villarreal, 49.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will interview each of the five before appointing the new public defender, said Shigeki Kikkawa, executive recruiter for the county's chief administrative officer. The interview schedule has not been set, Kikkawa said Monday.
The Los Angeles County Public Defender's Office employs a total of 854 attorneys and other staff and has an annual budget that this year reached $71.4 million.
The job is "the plum job of public defender jobs," said Ventura County Assistant Public Defender Duane Dammeyer, who oversees felony cases for Clayman.
Dammeyer said Clayman is an open-minded administrator who "is not looking to surround himself with yes men" and has modernized the Ventura County public defender's office in his 10 years there.
Clayman's strengths as a bureaucrat would also suit him well in dealing with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Dammeyer said.
"I don't know much about what goes on down there," he said. "But here he takes great pains in making sure the members of the board (of supervisors) are informed as to exactly what our needs are, what our strengths are and that the law mandates that we have service at a certain level."
Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury said his office and Clayman's have worked well together.
"The thing that I like most, of course, is he works so well with the other justice agencies," Bradbury said. "If there's any concern, he picks up the phone and calls me, and I'm comfortable doing the same with him. We've been able to work together for the betterment of the justice system here."