ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The managing attorney for a legal aid office in Albuquerque was selected Tuesday to run a newly independent state agency that provides legal representation to criminal defendants who can’t afford a lawyer.
Jorge Alvarado was unanimously appointed chief public defender by an 11-member commission, which interviewed four other candidates for the position.
Commission chairman Michael Stout said Alvarado will assume the job next month of running the Public Defender Department. He said Alvarado “showed a passion for indigent defense.”
Acting Public Defender Bennett Baur will continue in his post until Alvarado takes over.
Alvarado has been managing attorney for New Mexico Legal Aid, Inc. in Albuquerque since 2009. The group provides legal services in Bernalillo, Sandoval, Valencia, Socorro and Torrance counties.
He received a law degree in 1982 from Drake University in Iowa, and worked in California in a variety of legal positions for more than 25 years, including operating his own law practice and serving as a public defender and legal services attorney.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment last year that made the department an independent agency rather than having it under the control of the governor
The commission will oversee the department, including hiring and firing the chief public defender, who had been a gubernatorial appointee.
Other candidates for the agency’s top job were:
—Barry Porter, the acting deputy chief public defender who’s worked for the department since 2004 in a variety of jobs. Porter received his law degree from the University of Hawaii in 1993, and then served in the Office of Public Defender in Hawaii until joining the New Mexico agency.
—Lelia “Lee” Hood, general manager and attorney in the department’s capital crimes unit since 2004. She received her law degree from the University of South Dakota in 1989, and worked for more than a decade in that state as a legal services attorney, public defender and in a private law practice.
—Tomas Rodriguez, first assistant public defender in Waterloo, Iowa, and operating his own law practice in Des Moines since 2011. He was Iowa’s state public defender, a gubernatorial appointee, in 2009-2011. He received a law degree from the University of Iowa and has practiced law and taught in that state for 29 years. He was a full-time instructor at the University of Northern Iowa’s Department of Management from 1992 to 2006.
—James Egar, the chief public defender of Monterey County in California since 2006. He received his law degree from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles in 1975. He has practiced and taught law in California for more than 30 years, including as chief public defender in Santa Barbara in 2000-2006.
The New Mexico’s Public Defender Department has a budget of nearly $42 million this year and a staff of nearly 400, including lawyers, investigators, social workers and others.
Commission members are appointed by legislative leaders, the governor, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and dean of the University of New Mexico law school.