Published: Friday, November 26, 2010, 5:30 AM
A federal appeals court is advertising to find a lawyer to become the first federal public defender to represent indigent clients in north Alabama.
People charged with federal crimes in the Northern District of Alabama who can't afford a lawyer are now appointed one from a group of attorneys called the Criminal Justice Act Panel. The district has been one of only four court districts nationwide that doesn't have some form of a public defender office to represent indigent clients.
The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit Applications began accepting applications for the public defender several weeks ago. That person will lead a 14-member staff of attorneys, administrative employees and other support personnel with offices in Birmingham and Huntsville.
Deadline for applying for the $139,950 a year job is Dec. 17.
"We were happy to learn that the 11th Circuit has begun the process of advertising for the federal public defender for the Northern District of Alabama," said Chief U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn.
Creation of the Federal Public Defender Organization was approved late last year in a unanimous vote of the district's federal judges. Blackburn said judges also are grateful for the support of the state's two U.S. senators and congressmen within the northern district.
James P. Gerstenlauer, circuit executive for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, said he would not expect the public defender to be chosen before the middle of next year. After the application deadline next month, a committee of judges and lawyers will review and interview candidates, he said.
The federal public defender will hire the assistant federal defenders and other staff members for both the Birmingham and Huntsville federal defender offices, Blackburn said.
Birmingham attorney Brett M. Bloomston is one several attorneys on the CJA Panel available for appointment to indigent cases in the Northern District of Alabama. He also is on an administrative committee that acts as a liaison between the panel of attorneys and the court.
Initially some attorneys opposed the creation of a federal public defenders office, Bloomston said. He said there was a don't fix it if it isn't broken mentality. "We just weren't satisfied there was a need for it," he said.
But it's a decision that has been made and "we'll live with it," Bloomston said.
Despite the public defender's office, there will still be a need for the panel of attorneys because the public defenders office likely won't be able to handle the entire workload, Bloomston and others said. Also, there will be times when conflicts of interest within the public defenders office, may require the use of other lawyers.
"We will continue to be utilized," Bloomston said.
Blackburn estimated that the attorneys will still be getting at least 25 percent "and likely more" of the court-appointed cases.
"We are confident that a federal public defender along with the excellent lawyers on our Criminal Justice Act Panel will provide the best possible representation for indigent defendants in the Northern District of Alabama," Blackburn said.
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