KINGSTON, N.Y. — Lauren Sheeley was back before Ulster County lawmakers on Tuesday to defend her nomination as the county’s next public defender to members of the county Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee.
Sheeley has been appointed by Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan to be the next Ulster County public defender, but her appointment must be confirmed by the county Legislature.
Some lawmakers have questioned whether Sheeley, who has never practiced criminal law, is qualified for the position. Sheeley has served as first assistant county attorney since September 2019 and previously worked as the attorney in charge of Legal Services of the Hudson Valley.
On Tuesday, Sheeley suggested to committee members that her lack of criminal law experience was less of an issue for some lawmakers than her gender.
“Unfortunately, as a young female attorney, I am all too familiar with my qualifications being called into question,” she told committee members. “However, let me be clear: I am more than qualified for this position.”
In an interview following the committee meeting, Ryan also suggested that the opposition to Sheeley had less to do with what some see as her lack of qualifications and more to do with her gender.
“We always need to ask the tough questions, but we also need to be honest about where those comments are coming from, especially as we look to reshape our criminal justice system,” Ryan said, adding that not only is there a long history of racial inequality but also “a long history of discrimination against women.”
Ryan did not attend the committee meeting, which was held via Zoom teleconference.
During the committee meeting, Legislature Chairman David Donaldson, who has been the most vocal critic of Sheeley’s nomination, said her gender had no bearing on his opposition to her appointment.
“I don’t think anyone called into question your qualifications because you are a female,” Donaldson, D-Kingston, said. “That has nothing do to with it whatsoever, and I just want to make that clear.
“You’re a wonderful human being; you’ve done great work. I just feel you are not qualified for this position,” he said.
Donaldson said that by appointing Sheeley as public defender, the county would be “going backwards” to a time when the position wasn’t given the attention it deserved and appointments were made as political favors.
Sheeley said she is “more than qualified” to lead the office despite her lack of criminal law experience. She said she has spent much of her career representing indigent clients and has significant experience in Family Court, which she said she would bring to the position.
The Ulster County Public Defender’s Office represents indigent clients in both criminal and Family Court.
“I have an experience and a background that nobody else in this community has,” she said, adding that “with compassionate leadership and listening to what (staff attorneys) have to say and their suggestions, I believe I would foster and environment of nourishment, and that would be my goal.”
If Sheeley’s appointment is confirmed by the county Legislature, she will become the county’s first female public defender.
Sheeley would succeed Andrew Kossover, who was fired by Ryan in February following what Ryan said was the discovery that Kossover failed for six years to submit requests for state aid reimbursements amounting to nearly $2.5 million.
The full Legislature will vote on Sheeley’s confirmation at its meeting on Tuesday, July 21.