Anna McHugh accidentally caused public defender Anne Moore to becoome a whistleblower
Young producer hits gold with public defender documentary
by Mike Janssen
May 22, 2000
...McHugh started following [public defender Anne Moore] through the complex workings of Nevada County [California] justice--Moore's office, courtrooms, the district attorney's office—all the while meeting people who couldn't afford a lawyer and felt cheated by the legal system. Watching Moore struggle with her huge caseload and the pressures of public work deeply affected McHugh...
"Clients were just so emotionally charged. The public defenders were so stressed out. The atmosphere really got to me."
...Anne Moore, a former schoolteacher and activist for tenants' rights who entered public defense with a strong sense of duty. She was also the first woman hired in her office's 24-year history.
...McHugh says. "I got the sense that she was the exception, rather than the rule, of public defenders."
By the time she met McHugh, Moore had reached the end of her rope as a public defender. The huge caseloads and limited time were stressing her out. And she was increasingly troubled by problems in her office.
"We were running a guilty plea factory," Moore says. She alleges that in 1998, only one of hundreds of cases in her office ever went to trial. She also claims that an ex-cop on probation interviewed clients as a way of fulfilling his work release requirements, and that staff relations were rocky.
...After months of dissenting internally, Moore took her concerns to the county board of supervisors, which eventually publicized a critical evaluation of the public defenders' office. In the end, reports emerged that supported some of her allegations, and the head public defender was fired. Moore, who no longer works for the office, claims she also was fired as a result of her actions, but county officials say she resigned.
Though Moore already knew the problems in her office all too well, it took McHugh's straightforward approach to inspire her to blow the whistle...
"I could see that the person that I was could not tolerate the wrongdoing that I was part of, and that I thought I was someone who stood up for the rights of those who were traditionally underrepresented. ... I saw a person who needed to put my ethical obligations and my ideals above my career, and above security."
News of Moore's whistle-blowing shocked McHugh. "I didn't really quite know how to respond," she says. "I didn't quite feel like I had done anything in particular. I must have touched a nerve somewhere, stumbling around in the dark."
Public defender and judge ignore crushingly obvious mistaken identity