Bar News - December 14, 2012
NH Public Defender Names New Director
Indigent Defense Firm Handles 27,000 Cases Per Year
By: Kristen Senz
After more than 20 years with the New Hampshire Public Defender, Randy Hawkes has been named the new executive director of the nonprofit criminal defense organization, which employs more NH Bar members than any other firm or agency in the state.
"Iíve inherited a tremendous legacy and Iím grateful for the stewardship of those who preceded me in the executive directorís role," said Hawkes, the former managing attorney of the NHPD Strafford County office in Dover. "This is the culmination, for me, of 20 years of effort."
With 128 attorneys working in offices in nine counties, the private, state-funded NH Public Defender program employs nearly twice the number of bar members as the first-place private firm on our Top 20 list for 2012. Its ranks have nearly doubled since 2001. The NHPD program, which provides nearly all of the indigent criminal defense representation in the state, represented more than 27,000 defendants last year in criminal cases, juvenile delinquency matters and involuntary commitments, according to Hawkes.
Top 10 Public Sector/Public Interest Legal Organizations
|No. of NH Bar Members|
||NH Public Defender
||NH Attorney General
||Hillsborough County Attorney
||US Attorneyís Office
||UNH School of Law
||NH Legal Assistance
||Rockingham County Attorney
||Merrimack County Attorney
||NH Dept. of Safety
||Disability Rights Center
The NHPD has steadily expanded over the last 15 years, due to a variety of factors ranging from population growth to the complexity of criminal cases. The New Hampshire Judicial Councilís desire to have qualified defense attorneys ready to represent all low-income defendants statewide helped drive the expansion of the NHPD. Prior to the firmís increase in capacity, public defense attorneys could decline additional cases when their caseloads became unmanageable, which "made it extraordinarily difficult for court clerks to scramble to find qualified counsel," said Chris Keating, who recently stepped down as director of the NHPD to become executive director of the judicial council.
The growth of the NH Public Defender program is linked not only to a growing case volume and the need for consistent statewide coverage, but also to the increasingly complex nature of criminal defense work. Three decades ago, the documentation in a murder case fit into one expanded file folder, Keating said. "Now, weíre talking eight bankerís boxes of materials and a dedicated homicide unit and the state police major crimes unit that does incredibly thorough investigations."
An adequate defense in a serious felony case requires the expertise to analyze the evidence put forth by these new entities. Increasingly, defense attorneys also need to understand and analyze evidence that comes from computer hard drives and the internet. Despite the rapid evolution of technology, however, Keating is hopeful that the volume and complexity of criminal cases has leveled off.
"I donít really pretend to have any crystal-ball expertise on thisÖ, [but] I sense that weíve reached something of a zenith, in terms of raw case intake," he said, "and I hope that weíve seen the full extent of the expansion of the raw materials that make up a criminal case."
Going forward, the NH Public Defender program will confront new funding challenges. Specifically, Keating said, as more courts create alternative sentencing structures with the expectation that public defenders will be at the table helping to develop and implement these new programs, the nonprofit firm and the judicial council will need to consider new ways to support those efforts financially.
"These are court appearances that there isnít credit for in the system," Keating said of the more frequent appearances common in drug courts and other alternative sentencing programs. "Itís not a model that the indigent defense system was built to handle."
Given the stateís complex criminal law landscape and budgetary constraints, the public defender program must also work hard to recruit and retain qualified attorneys.
"New Hampshire is a death-penalty state, and New Hampshire is a state with a sexually violent predator law that enables the government to put someone away based on future-risk prediction," Keating said. "New Hampshire is a place where people see pretty strong sentences for criminal behavior, so this requires an able, an experienced, and a well-trained complement of attorneys to appropriately handle these cases."
"The challenge going forward," Keating continued, "is going to be to retain the attorneys to do this difficult work and to do it in the face of rising costs across the board."
Hawkes said the NHPD has a long history of recruiting and retaining the best attorneys and that he intends to maintain a work environment that continues to attract top talent. His dedication to that goal, as well as to fulfilling the programís obligation of accountability to the people of New Hampshire, is evident.
"My overarching sense of responsibility is that we exist to serve the citizens of this state," he said. "Our duty is to not just the people we represent, but all the people of New Hampshire. We have an obligation to provide qualified representation to the accused; we have an obligation to the people to serve with integrity, to be conscientious, to be principled, to be ethical, and we have an obligation to be fiscally responsible and cost-effective. As the director, I plan to continue to assure that we do all those things."
The New Hampshire judiciary in recent years has made several major changes to increase efficiency and cut costs. In contrast, opportunities to streamline criminal defense work are fewer and farther between.
"I struggle mightily to consider ways to bring greater efficiencies to criminal defense representation," Keating said, "but at the end of the day, you still need to develop a relationship of trust with the client based on the clientís perception that youíre devoted to the case and youíve worked hard to prepare it."
In his new role at the judicial council, Keating said he looks forward to working with the judicial branch and Hawkes at the NHPD to adapt to a changing system while keeping costs in check.
"Heís one of the most fantastic litigators in the state," Keating said of his successor. "I know heíll lead the organization with integrity. I know he will have very high expectations for peopleís performance, and I think he very much understands the critical importance of accountability."