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New chief defender chosen

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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Indianapolis defense attorney Robert J. Hill Jr. is poised to be the next top public defender in the state's largest county.

The Marion County Public Defender Agency's governing board voted March 12 for him to lead the agency after David E. Cook resigns for private practice in mid-April. Cook notified the nine-member board of his decision in December to leave the office after 13 years at the helm, setting in motion a search for his successor.

To help facilitate the transition, Cook agreed today to stay on until April 20.

A public meeting earlier this afternoon entailed an interview of finalists Hill and Indianapolis attorney Eric K. Koselke, who were chosen from 10 original applicants for the job. A third finalist, Mark Kamish of Franklin, withdrew prior to the meeting.

Seven board members voted unanimously for Hill's appointment, with board member Rick Kammen abstaining because he and Hill work at the same firm, Gilroy Kammen & Hill. He noted that he didn't see any conflict, but agreed not to vote. Board member Jon Bailey didn't attend the meeting.

Both finalists had extensive ties to the agency and experience in handling a range of criminal cases, including multiple death penalty cases. Each candidate spoke briefly about their backgrounds, why they wanted the position, and what they saw for the future of the office.

"I've always had an interest and passion for public defense, and believe I can really make a difference for the office," Hill said. "As lawyers, if we don't take care of those without money the same as those with it, the system will break down. It's a calling for all of us."

Admitted to practice in January 1982, Hill has worked as deputy chief public defender from 1994 to 2000, and as a part-time public defender since 1983 on juvenile and major felony cases. Hill is a board member for the Indiana Public Defender Council and has served as a past chairman; he also stepped down from the county defender agency's board recently to apply for this slot. Currently, he works as a contract public defender for Indiana Federal Community Defenders, aside from his private practice.

His goals for the office include being able to transition to a full-time staff, be able to adequately fund the agency, and increase mentoring opportunities within the office, he told the board.

Now, the City-County Council must sign off on Hill's appointment before it takes effect. The board's legal counsel today planned to get the nomination to the council on Thursday so that it could be brought up at the next meeting March 24, but he didn't know if the council could immediately vote or if the issue would have to be referred to a public safety committee before a final vote.

If the council doesn't vote by Cook's departure April 20, Hill will temporarily lead the agency as interim director until the confirmation process is complete, the board voted today.
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