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Public defender finalists named

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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Two men vying for Marion County's top public defender spot will face public interviews next week before members of the county agency's governing board decide which one will ultimately be recommended for the position.

The Marion County Public Defender Agency's board of directors declined to release names publicly until today. The board is searching for someone to succeed chief defender David E. Cook, who is leaving the agency for Indianapolis immigration firm Gresk & Singleton.

Indianapolis defense attorneys Robert J. Hill Jr. and Eric K. Koselke are in the final running for the chief defender job.

But as the nine-member board moves into the final stretches of its search for a successor, it's investigating a potential conflict of interest. Because one of the two finalists works in the same firm as one of the voting members, that could mean only eight get to vote next week.

Board member Richard Kammen is a partner at Gilroy Kammen & Hill, the firm where Hill has practiced criminal defense since 2001. Kammen has been involved in the discussion phases so far, and a decision hasn't been made whether he'll participate in the public vote.

"We're still considering whether there's an issue," said board chairman Jimmie McMillian, an associate with Barnes & Thornburg. "We've discussed that but haven't decided how to proceed."

The board's legal counsel Logan Harrison couldn't be reached today, but the Hoosier State Press Association's legal counsel Stephen Key said the situation doesn't seem to rise to a state statute violation. Without knowing specifics, Key said the issue would be whether Kammen and the firm would gain in any way if Hill secured the top defender spot. An appearance of impropriety may be the only concern, but that doesn't rise to a statute violation level, he said.

"There may not be anything legally wrong, but what's the public perception?" Key asked. "If it appears that there's favoritism or a feeling of impropriety, then maybe they'd decide whether that person should step aside so no one could question (the vote) later."

An open meeting is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. March 12 in Room 260 of the City-County Building, 200 E. Washington St. Both Hill and Koselke will go through a third and final interview before the vote, McMillian said. The board interviewed 10 applicants Feb. 26 and trimmed the list to three: Hill, Koselke, and attorney Mark E. Kamish, who practices at Baldwin Adams Knierim & Kamish in Franklin. Kamish withdrew his name for "personal and professional reasons," according to McMillian.

Both finalists have extensive ties to the agency and experience handling a range of criminal cases. Koselke has been practicing since June 1985, working as a deputy state public defender for three years, chief public defender of Marion Municipal Courts for three years, six years working for the county defender's office, and for various private firms. He currently has his own firm devoted mostly to criminal defense, and he also serves as a special assistant to the state public defender.

Admitted to practice in January 1982, Hill has worked as deputy chief public defender from 1994 to 2000 and as a part-time 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, Hill practices at Gilroy Kammen & Hill as well as being a contract public defender for the Indiana Federal Community Defenders.

Following the interviews, the board will send a recommendation for consideration by the City-County Council, which has final confirmation power.

This final action from the agency's board comes more than three months after Cook notified members he'd be leaving the agency he's led for 12 years. He planned to stay until mid-February but delayed his departure for a month to give the board more time to find a successor. It's unclear whether he'll be able to do that again. He has told Indiana Lawyer that he cannot stay past April 1, which means the board will likely have to appoint an interim director to fill the spot until Cook's successor gets the City-County Council's confirmation.

McMillian expects the council to vote in mid-April, but he emphasized this appointment is urgent and needs consideration as quickly as possible. The council met Monday and its next scheduled meeting is March 24, according to an online meeting calendar.
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