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Panel picks chief public defender for the state

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Jorge Alvarado, the newly selected New Mexico chief public defender – the first picked by a new, independent commission – is a Costa Rican native who grew up in California and is a longtime advocate for indigent defense.

He is expected to take office in mid-November.

Alvarado is currently the managing attorney of the New Mexico Legal Aid office in Albuquerque, which handles domestic, consumer and low-income issues for a five-county area.

Alvarado has been a sole practitioner and an assistant public defender in Oxnard and Ventura in California and worked for a small private law practice in Bakersfield after graduating from Drake University Law School in 1982. He earned an undergraduate degree in political science from California State University, Northridge.

The New Mexico Public Defender Commission conducted its first meeting in August after being authorized by a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2012. The commission by law had to pick the new head of the office by Oct. 15.

Commissioners interviewed five finalists Tuesday in Albuquerque and discussed candidates behind closed doors for four hours before announcing the selection of Alvarado. A small group of public defenders and contract attorneys awaited the selection outside the room where commissioners were meeting.

Chairman Michael Stout of Las Cruces said Wednesday that the commission had the luxury of making the selection from an outstanding list of finalists.

“This wasn’t a battle of negatives. For the most part, it was all about positives,” he said.

Alvarado was picked, Stout said, because he has “a sensitivity to issues in New Mexico and vast management experience in both New Mexico and California. He has a passion for indigent defense work. He has the support of the people he worked with previously and knowledge of legal issues and the client base and we’re comfortable he’ll work well with commissioners as well as all of the players in the system, including employees.”

Alvarado worked in administration for the 150-lawyer Riverside County Public Defender Office, supervising the juvenile division and helping to create the Educational Rights and Mental Advocacy Program as well as formulating policy and the annual budget.

He has coached Little League, been a Cub Scout leader and made frequent appearances discussing legal issues in English and Spanish at schools, community agencies and on television in Oxnard, Ventura and Riverside, Calif., as well being a presenter in the Afghan Women Lawyers Program, a U.S. State Department program, in 2009.

In New Mexico, he is on the board of the Hispanic Bar Association, the Access to Justice Commission and the Pro Bono Committee of the 2nd Judicial District Court. In addition to the state bar, he was admitted to practice before the Pueblo of Laguna and the Pueblo of Acoma tribal courts.

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