Federal courts hire four public defenders in N.D.
Four attorneys have been appointed by the federal judiciary to serve in North Dakota's new public defender program. Local private-practice attorneys Richard Henderson and Christopher Lancaster were chosen to represent indigent federal criminal de...
Four attorneys have been appointed by the federal judiciary to serve in North Dakota's new public defender program.
Local private-practice attorneys Richard Henderson and Christopher Lancaster were chosen to represent indigent federal criminal defendants from a Fargo office, said Jeffrey Viken, federal public defender for the districts of North Dakota and South Dakota.
Bismarck attorneys Orell Schmitz and William Schmidt will serve western North Dakota from a Bismarck office, Viken said.
The four attorneys were among 61 who applied for the positions, Viken said.
"It's an opportunity to do important public work," said Henderson, an experienced federal criminal defense attorney from Moorhead.
"If the federal courts are going to be able to dispense justice, it's critically important that we provide vigorous, effective defense," he said.
The government is developing the program in North Dakota to help manage a growing criminal caseload, said Daniel Hovland, North Dakota's chief U.S. district judge.
The federal court system won't fund a public defender program until districts handle at least 200 criminal cases a year that involve indigent defendants, Hovland said.
In fiscal year 2004, North Dakota's four federal district courts handled 350 such cases at a cost of about $1 million, he said.
Plans are to open the Fargo and Bismarck public defender offices by October, Viken said.
In addition to the public defenders, each office will staff a full-time investigator and a clerical worker, he said.
Federal district judges in North Dakota now appoint attorneys to represent poor defendants. With a growing caseload, the public defender program is expected to be more cost-effective, Hovland said.
"I've thought having an office like this is something the district of North Dakota has needed for a long time," said Lancaster, an attorney for the Moorhead law firm of Stefanson, Plambeck, Foss and Fisher.
Lancaster 46, is a former Mendocino County, Calif., prosecutor and a Clay County prosecutor.
Henderson, 52, practices federal criminal defense and civil litigation for the Nilles Law Firm in Moorhead.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526