County government jobs (legal)

I don’t know if there’s anyone on this board that will necessarily know the answers to this, but I figured I’d throw it out there. I know there are some DAs and Public Defenders on here, but I think maybe an HR person would be most likely to know.

I just took the California Bar Exam, and while I’m waiting for my results, I’m getting my resume together (as well as my moral character application, which I foolishly put off until now) and looking into county attorney jobs various places in California.

My question is this – will it raise a red flag if I apply for both deputy DA and Public Defender position within the same county? Will either department even be aware of my application with the other department? If so, will those in charge of hiring feel that it’s a poor reflection on my ability to be an emphatic advocate?

And, although this is more IMHO territory, feel free to let me know what your own concerns would be about having as a PD someone who initially considered either position – and the same regarding a DA.


When I read the title, my first thought was “Spitzer, I didn’t know you were a Doper!”

I can only offer anecdote: Several public defenders that I know personally have worked as prosecutors. And several prosecutors I know have worked as defense attorneys.

If they ask, can you not spin it as serving the citizenry as best you can?

I don’t think it makes a difference at all. Nor do Isee why applying to both offices will raise any red flags. It’s quite common for prosecutors to become defence attorneys and vice versa. In England and Australia barristers often take defence and prosection cases.

There are a couple of prosecutors and at least one public defender from various jurisdictions on the Dope; they’d be far more able to give advice than almost anyone else.

If you’re in a jurisdiction that separates civil representation of the county as a legal entity from its magisterial role as representative of The People in a criminal case, it’s my experience that you’d do well to stick to one side or the other of the criminal courts. Typically there is relatively little work for the County (civil) Attorney, and whoever holds the ofice regards it as a cash cow which he is loath to share any of the usufructs of. The prosecutorial and even more the public-defending offices are generally somewhat overworked and would welcome relatively inexpensive trained help – if they can afford it.

Most (or all?) counties in California do have a separate County Counsel, which deals with civil issues. Actually, I didn’t realize that some jurisdictions don’t have separate legal entities for criminal vs. civil representation.

Thanks for all the replies so far. I think my view of things is skewed by a couple of students in my class who were very gung-ho about some kind of relentless pursuit and prosecution of all things evil (or whatever), and I started to wonder if maybe that’s what a DA’s office looks for in new recruits. Personally they struck me as the last person I’d want as a deputy DA, but reality rarely fits in with what I believe.

And thanks for “usufructs”, I think I knew that word at one time, but I had to look it up. :slight_smile:

IAAL but not in Cali.

I served for several years as an assistant county attorney and several years before that as an assistant attorney general, but in the civil division, defending the county or state in civil courts, not prosecuting crimes in criminal court. As an aside, don’t forget about the civil jobs when you’re applying, unless you really want to only practice criminal law. Civil trial work is IMO more transferable to private practice than either criminal prosecution or defense, if you think that’s a transition you might want to make someday.

To answer your question: No, the PD’s office is unlikely to know who the county is looking at hiring and vice versa. The offices are intentionally kept completely separate. In many locations, the PD’s office is not even funded directly through the county but instead through a state public defenders’ funding source. (Not sure if that’s true in California or not, though.) This is not to say they might not find out – PDs and prosecutors do talk sometimes – but there is nothing inherently contradictory about applying with both offices.

But I have to tell you that I never worked for a public agency at either the state or county level that would hire someone not yet admitted to practice. There are so many applicants that they really don’t need to, and in the entry level criminal positions (on both sides) they almost always want someone they can toss into court immediately. So you might find that a stumbling block until you are admitted.

ETA: With all due respect to Polycarp, his post does not reflect my experience as a civil DPA (deputy prosecuting attorney). It is true that in very small counties there may be only one person to handle the civil work (and frequently that person will be an attorney on contract, not a civil employee), but most counties of any size these days maintain a staff of civil attorneys. The county attorney’s office I worked for had . . . doing math . . . around 24 full-time civil lawyers, and they were asking for funding for more positions when I left. There was more than enough work for all of us and, yes, we were physically and finanacially part of the same county attorney’s office that also employed the criminal prosecutors.

Thanks – I admit I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but I don’t want to be scrambling for a job whenever I do get my license, whether it’s this year, or 5 years from now.
Also, there’s at least one DA’s office here that will hire someone conditionally, while waiting for their bar results – but that’s likely a minority, and for exceptional applicants only. For the most part, I’m assuming I’ll have to wait until I’m licensed.

I have been a prosecutor and a Public Defender at various times - most legal pros that specialize in criminal law have done the same, and said it made them better at both jobs. I tend to agree.

I have applied for both prosecutor and PD jobs at the same time, the interviewers knew it, and I still got both offers.
Right now I am serving as a part-time deputy prosecutor/consultant in one county and still take the occassional defense case in other counties (often appointed by a local judge to do just that).

But then, Wyoming is a very different animal than California

Why should it matter to either potential employer? A good attorney should be able to represent either side. If a potential employer can’t understand that a new graduate needs work from whatever source is available, then that’s someone you probably don’t want to work for.

Not experienced in the legal field but experienced in HR. It strikes me as really unlikely that two separate government agencies’ HR folks would have their acts together enough to even notice something like that. Unless you personally are the kind of person who becomes somewhat of a local celebrity among the legal and HR community when you interview, like “the guy who shows up in a clown suit,” the “only minority we’ve ever had apply” or “that boy from Harvard” in the middle of nowhere …

Sometimes interviewers will ask if you are applying elsewhere. Prepare what you’d like to say if you are asked–try to make it sound like theirs is the job you really want, without sounding too hypocritical if you decide to take the other job. You just don’t want to sound shifty or tongue-tied.

Especially as a new grad I can’t see this as a problem. If you were very experienced on one side it might be more of something you’d need to explain, but the attorneys who’ve weighed in seem to indicate that the switch is quite doable even then.

Good luck on your job search!

Just as a side note here, my experience on this topic was with smaller jurisdictions … counties of 100,000 or fewer residents, mostly far fewer. And I gladly yield to Jodi’s greater familiarity with the topic at hand.

Note: I don’t believe that New York had ‘prosecutory’ lawsuits for civil penalties handled by the County Attorneys, who simply dealt with cpunty tax sales, contracts for goods and services and for construction, and related things in which the county as a municipal corporation was a party. TTBOMK most civil-penalty lawssuits were pursued either by the Department of Law (AKA Attorney General’s Office) or the legal-and-enforcement arms of state departments (DEC, Health, Insurance, etc.). Other than municipal zoning laws, I’m not aware of below-state-level (county, city, etc.) legislation providing for civil penalties. Washington, of course, was clearly different.

This is highly dependent on state and local arrangements. In Ohio, for example, the elected county prosecutor is also the county attorney for civil matters. In rural counties there are no separate staffs. Indeed, in rural Ohio counties, the elected prosecutor has the option to take a “part-time” salary and also run a private (non-criminal) law practice on the side and very often the elected prosecutor’s private law partners/associates will double as deputy prosecutors.