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Panel to pick public defender

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SANTA FE – An 11-member commission is preparing to select the state’s chief public defender, who administers a newly independent agency providing legal representation to criminal defendants who can’t afford a lawyer.

The commission meets today in Albuquerque to interview five semifinalists and must make a selection by next Tuesday.

Voters adopted a constitutional amendment last year that made the Public Defender Department an independent agency rather than one under the control of the governor.

The commission will oversee the department and has the power to hire and fire the chief public defender, who previously was appointed by the governor.

Among the candidates under consideration by the commission are Barry Porter, the acting deputy chief public defender, and Lelia “Lee” Hood, who manages the department’s capital crimes unit.

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