ambivalent imbroglio home
May 03, 2006

Hey basket, meet all of my eggs!

Although I've tried to keep my whining to a minimum here, for the past six months or so, L. and I have been thinking of little else besides where we're going to be living six months from now. Yesterday, that dilemma was finally solved when she took a great job in Billings, Montana! And we're moving at the end of the month!

In a way it feels like I just took Jay-Z's choice b: “bounce on the devil put the pedal to the floor.” Suddenly things seem to be moving very quickly and there's no doubt that this is a huge gamble. Most sane law graduates get a job and then move; I'm going to be doing it the other way around. It feels crazy, and it probably is, but hey, what's life w/out a little risk? Or a lot?


Of course, first I have to successfully complete law school and suddenly even that seems like a gamble. My final final is tomorrow and I still don't have a clue what I'll be expected to summon from my brain (or my notes, such as they are. I better get crackin'!

Oh, a note to all of our friends and loved ones who have been so supportive during our uncertainty and who had high hopes we'd be moving to the Midwest: We will miss you and hope you will come visit us often in the Big Sky Country! Take the train from Chicago and we'll meet you in West Glacier! We'll certainly try to visit you as often as we can and will most likely be moving east again sometime in the future.

Posted 11:05 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

May 01, 2006

It's now official: Montana is hiring!

As of just a few minutes ago, the Montana State Public Defender began advertising for multiple open positions in its new offices around the state.

Positions are available in Kalispell, Polson, Missoula, Hamilton, Great Falls, Helena, Butte, Anaconda, Havre, Bozeman, Billings, and Miles City. Open until filled encourage interested applicants to apply by May 12, 2006. Applications will be considered for employment opportunities over the next 180 calendar days.

The two best parts for me are that they're advertising a starting salary of $43,999(!!) and this:

The minimum requirements include Juris Doctor from ABA accredited law school. Ideal candidates will include recent graduates who have a strong desire to work in the Public Defender System with little or no experience up to having at least six years of practical experience in law, preferably in litigation of criminal and civil law involving public defense actions. Admission to the State Bar of Montana is preferred.

(emphasis added) So hey, I'm an ideal candidate! Hooray! Keep those fingers crossed!

Posted 05:29 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

April 23, 2006

Another opening in Billings?

It seems the chief public defender in Billings, Montana, has decided to resign as of June 30, 2006. It seems like this can only be a good thing for me, considering that this resignation means there's one less lawyer who will be competing for a position in the PD's office in Billings and that's exactly where I hope to work.

The comments on the article about this are quite interesting. The first, from someone calling him/herself “Former Public Defender,” says that the woman who is resigning, Penny Strong, did not resign but was “forced out.” Someone called “Current Public Defender” responds with high praise for Strong, and a short exchange follows, with “Current” defending public defenders and arguing that it's no surprise that judges and prosecutors didn't like Strong, while variously-named interlocutors (who may all be “Former”) complain about Strong and public defenders generally. Based on this, it sounds like the Billings public defender's office has a lot of work to do in educating the public about its role in the criminal justice system. It also sounds like there's some controversy (possibly fringe) about the Yellowstone County Attorney; exactly what that's all about is unclear.

At any rate, it's all fascinating information for me, so thanks to the kind readers who sent me the link! As I mentioned previously, the Montana Public Defender Commission met this week to decide pay rates and hiring . . . at least I was told that's what they were going to talk about; the agendas are too vague for me to learn much from. Anyway, things are moving a bit in positive directions so my fingers remain crossed.

Oh, I also noticed that the Commission has put its Proposed Public Defender Standards online. I'll be taking a closer look at these soon...

It really is exciting to watch this new public defender system taking shape! And remember, “if it can happen in Montana, it can happen anywhere.”

Posted 12:22 PM | Comments (174) | TrackBack

April 19, 2006

My lawyer can beat up your lawyer.

Have you ever heard of a motion for a fist-fight? It seems a defense attorney in Western Montana filed such a thing in a criminal case. You can read the motion and response here.

It's an interesting way to emphasize that you think the prosecutor is making a ludicrous argument, but as the dark goddess of replevin notes, the case appears to be quite serious. Apparently one of the authors of the motion has decided to move away from the town as a result of the case. It's hard to know what to make of the case from the published accounts other than that it stems from one seriously scary high school party and that this is one seriously frustrated defense attorney.

In other Montana criminal defense news, the Billings public defender who is currently serving a 30-day suspension of her law license was formally censured by the Montana Supreme Court. Of course the actions that led to the censure are confidential. We wouldn't want the public to know any more than it already does about lawyers behaving badly, now would we?

Finally, the Montana Public Defender Commission is meeting tomorrow and Friday to talk about attorney salaries (among other things). That means next week, if all goes as planned, they will be posting job openings on the state jobs website.

When I tell people I want to move to Montana I mostly get strange looks and silence. Before they can even think of a suitable question to ask I always add, “my family lives there.” This makes the explanation easy, but it's far from the only reason I want to live there (even if it is the most important reason). I sometimes get kind of annoyed with this knee-jerk “why Montana!?” response, but now I'm glad for it. If it means that fewer people will be competing for whatever jobs the State Public Defender posts next week, then people can be as “why Montana?” as they want.

Posted 10:28 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 05, 2006

MT PD Update: Unclear Progress

In the ongoing saga Montana's transition to a new public defender system and my efforts to get a job in that system, the latest is that one of the Assistant PD's in Billings has had her law license suspended for 30 days [via Public Defender Stuff].

According to the disciplinary order, D'Alton admitted to falsifying evidence or encouraging or inducing a witness to provide false testimony; making a false statement of material fact; engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; and engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Meanwhile, Billings (or Yellowstone County, of which Billings is the county seat) is advertising for every level of public defender. This comes after the new Public Defender Commission decided that all currently-employed PDs would have to reapply for their jobs, and also after another county named an interim public defender whose job theoretically ends July 1 when the new statewide PD system begins.

I don't get it. As of July 1, the state of Montana itself will be the only employer of PDs in Montana; individual counties will no longer be hiring or employing PDs. So what the heck is Yellowstone County doing? Is it advertising for positions that will basically not exist on July 1, or are they jumping the gun to start getting applications that they will end up forwarding to the state PD office? Is this just an expression of the county's frustration? They clearly need public defenders (the Billings office has experienced a lot of turmoil and turnover in recent months and years), yet, as of July 1, they will no longer be able to do anything about that need. Perhaps they're impatient with the pace at which the state is moving in this transition and they're trying to show that impatience by advertising these positions?

I do not know.

What I do know is that the State Public Defender Strategic Plan is interesting reading—at least for anyone who is interested in how this is all coming together. I have also heard from the state PD office that there are “quite a number of openings all around the state” and that job announcements should be posted here around the week of April 24th. I'll be keeping my eye on it.

Posted 10:56 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 28, 2006

Montana Public Defender Uncertainty

As the July 1 deadline approaches for Montana's move to a statewide public defender system, it's a little hard to tell what's happening. The part I care most about is what they're going to do about staffing. The last news I heard was that the Public Defender Commission had announced that current public defenders (those who have been employed by county governments up until now) will not be guaranteed jobs in the new state system. I know that probably sounds bad for them, but I also assume that, despite that announcement, most of them will actually end up getting hired by the state. So I'm still wondering: Will the state be hiring new public defenders soon? And if so, will they be considering new graduates like myself? The commission met for the second time this year two weeks ago and I sort of assumed they'd be talking about staffing issues at that tim. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a single news report or press release to indicate what happened at that meeting. Uncertainty reigns.

In the only news I have found recently, one county hasnamed an interim public defender to work only between now and July 1. But come on — are we really supposed to believe that people like this are just going to lose their jobs on July 1?

Meanwhile, I've set up one initial interview elsewhere—the first of what I'm told is a 3-step interview/hiring process that can take three months or more. Great.

All this job uncertainty is not fun, but one thing makes it infinitely worse: The bar exam. For this and many other reasons I agree with Professor Solove: We should abolish it!

Posted 09:13 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 06, 2006

But Montana's PD reform continues

As Arbitrary and Capricious notes, Montana's new public defender has just told all chief and deputy public defenders in the state that their jobs have been eliminated. This makes sense because the state is moving from a public defender system in which PDs were county employees to one in which all PDs will be state employees.

So what does this mean for a soon-to-graduate law student who would like to become a public defender in Montana? I have no idea. The one report we have of this says that “The terminated chief and deputy chief public defenders can apply for the regional and public defender jobs, according to Hood's letter.” So I assume that most—it not all—former chief and deputy PDs will end up doing much the same thing they do now; the only difference is they will report to the state's chief public defender rather than to a county board. If that's the case, this move won't create any PD vacancies in the state, meaning this move won't change my chances of getting a job there.

I could be wrong, though. I hope so. Fat Tire is widely available throughout Montana.

Other posts about Montana's new public defender system:

Posted 09:23 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 24, 2006

Update: Montana's Public Defender System

Montana's new, “model,” statewide public defender system is still gearing up for a July 2006 start-date. I've been following the progress through the new State Public Defender webpage where the Public Defender Commission has kindly been posting the agendas and minutes of its monthly meetings. At the December meeting, the Board discussed a state attorney general's decision that their enabling legislation allows them to retain current state and county employees, but does not require them to do so. That means they could, theoretically, be replacing some attorneys or hiring new ones for whatever reason, and that would be good for me. Still, hiring new attorneys wasn't on the agenda of their meeting yesterday so if they plan to do that I guess it will be in the future.

One other tidbit I just noticed: The last sentence of this article about the appointment last October of Randi Hood as the new Chief Public Defender says “She is married to John Connor, the chief criminal prosecutor in the attorney general’s office.” Huh? Is there really no conflict of interest there for either of them?

Posted 08:51 AM | TrackBack

October 05, 2005

Montana Public Defender Act

Since Montana is one of the states where I'd like to get a job (sssh! Don't tell my girlfriend!), I've been reading up a bit on Montana's recently revamped public defender system. As NLADA notes, the state passed the Montana Public Defender Act last June. It supposedly attempts to implement the ABA's 10 Principles of a Public Defense System (PDF). The Act was a response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU charging that Montana's previous system of indigent defense was insufficient. According to the ACLU, the system was badly in need of reform (but at least it wasn't as bad as its neighbor, ND, where the public defender system is being run by a prosecutor).

From a quick read of the Montana Act, it looks like the legislation takes public defender responsibilities from the county level and moves them to the state level by creating a State Public Defender Office headed by a Chief Public Defender. The Chief will hire one Deputy Public Defender for each of 11 “regions” in the state. I'm not sure how regions are delineated. Those Deputies will then hire and manage public defenders for their regions, and/or contract w/private attorneys to furnish indigent defense. The whole thing will be governed by a Public Defender Commission whose 11 members will be appointed by the governor.

All of this sounds fine and dandy, but what I want to know is: 1) Does this mean they'll be hiring and employing more or fewer public defenders? and 2) How, where, and when should I apply for such a job? The Commission was supposed to have been appointed by July 1, 2005. Did it happen? The state was advertising for a Chief Public Defender, so that's a good sign, and it seems a safe bet that any public defender jobs will be advertised on the state jobs site, as well. But who knows? I guess I'll just have to keep my eyes peeled, but if any one out there has any more info or tips, the comments are always open!

Of course, there are also forces at work encouraging me to go to someplace like Michigan or Illinois. It looks like Cook County might be a good bet in the Land of Lincoln, but what about MI? Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor) would be nice, but it doesn't appear to be hiring at the moment. Not that most openings advertised right now would really be relevant anyway b/c if a public defender's office is advertising a job now, that's a pretty good sign it wants an attorney now—not a year from now after I pass the bar. *sigh*

Posted 04:56 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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