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When Alameda County’s interim probation chief reports to work today, he’ll be deep in a monthlong struggle between judges and county leaders over who should hold the job. On Friday, tensions over the appointment of former Assistant Sheriff Wayne Tucker to the temporary post escalated several notches when Presiding Juvenile Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte scheduled a hearing to air arguments about her court order temporarily banning Tucker from running juvenile hall. Running the hall is one of the duties of the probation chief. Not only was County Counsel Richard Winnie a no-show at that hearing, but he filed court papers accusing Harbin-Forte of bias. “County counsel must be under the erroneous impression that if you file a challenge for cause, you don’t have to be here,” said Harbin-Forte after waiting in the courtroom with a half-dozen spectators for about 20 minutes. Winnie must have gotten “bad advice from somebody there,” she added. Harbin-Forte then amended her order to allow Tucker to run juvenile detention facilities, but she created a blue-ribbon panel to address local juvenile justice reforms and ordered Tucker to strictly adhere to a state law that prohibits running juvenile hall like a jail. Winnie was not available for comment. The courtroom scene capped weeks of public and behind-the-scenes wrangling over who will lead the probation department while the county supervisors search for a permanent department head. Longtime probation chief Sylvia Johnson’s last day was Friday. In December, Sheriff Charles Plummer was appointed to the interim post and supervisors — like board President Gail Steele and Scott Haggerty — said Plummer’s management chops and history of progressive programs would be ideal for the probation department. But shortly after the announcement, Alameda County Presiding Judge Harry Sheppard, as well as prominent lawyers such as Eva Paterson of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, expressed fears that the appointment had inherent legal problems. For starters, there was the 1996 Sixth District Court of Appeal opinion, People ex rel. Deputy Sheriffs’ Association v. County of Santa Clara, 49 Cal.App.4th 1471, in which justices ruled that a probation chief could not run jails — one of the Alameda County sheriff’s duties. County Counsel Winnie has suggested that the complaints are politically motivated. In November, voters approved a ballot measure that shifted oversight of the probation chief from the court to the supervisors. Although supervisors asked for input from judges on the permanent hire, they made Plummer interim chief without involving the court in the decision. Ultimately, supervisors decided in closed session to switch to the assistant sheriff for their interim choice. Under the new plan, Plummer would help advise supervisors about the probation department, and Tucker would temporarily resign from his law enforcement job to assure that he’d be loyal to the probation department. But that didn’t calm the waters. After the new appointment, Harbin-Forte issued the court order, saying that giving the sheriff “unfettered access to confidential juvenile records” violated children’s and families’ rights. State law prohibits the sheriff from running a juvenile hall and limits his access to juvenile records. “[I]t would not be in the interest of minors under the jurisdiction of the Alameda County Superior Juvenile Court, nor in the interest of the juvenile justice system � to have the sheriff or his deputies serve as the chief probation officer,” Harbin-Forte wrote. At Friday’s hearing the judge said she got a copy of Tucker’s resignation letter, which is why she changed her initial order. In her first order, the judge asked for proof that Tucker was actually leaving the sheriff’s department. However, Harbin-Forte said probation programs “are still in jeopardy.” The judge also said she didn’t think she could be challenged simply for doing what she views as her statutory duties. The hearing was attended by a handful of spectators, including Sheila Mitchell, assistant chief probation officer; Walter Jackson, a deputy district attorney who supervises juvenile prosecutors; and Walter Riley, who is on the county Juvenile Justice Commission. None of them spoke during the hearing. Outside of court, Riley said the commission fears that juvenile programs will become more like jails, making it harder to rehabilitate young people. The supervisors could use the interim post to push through major changes — such as making Tucker the permanent chief — that will be hard to undo. Tucker’s resignation doesn’t mean loyalties will change, Riley said. “Tucker is Plummer’s man,” said Riley, an Oakland criminal defense attorney. Under the current arrangement, Tucker would work for Plummer after the probation job is over, he said. The commission is particularly concerned that Plummer could give guns to probation officers, fingerprint minors and allow the use of pepper spray — all things that were forbidden under Johnson, the outgoing chief. Tucker “is a sheriff,” Riley said. “He has law enforcement training.”

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