Applicants from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and even Washington, D.C., attended the event, which was the largest single-day outreach for new attorneys in the OPD's 36-year history. The recent state Early Retirement Incentive saw the exodus of many veteran NJOPD attorneys, creating opportunities for others who wanted to join the state's largest legal defense team.
The candidates faced an intense, fast-paced interview process in which they met with three teams of lawyers for five minutes each to face tough questioning about their background, their motivation for wanting to be a public defender and then a "hot seat" period in which they answered hypothetical ethics questions.
Candidate Nicole Chavis of Brooklyn said she thought the round-robin form of interviewing "was very effective. You're on your toes the whole time, but I thought it was very fair."
Office of the Public Defender officials were impressed by the wide array of candidates, who ranged from very young attorneys to those with vast experience in legal practice.
"We were bowled over by the response to our ads and our outreach for this recruitment," New Jersey Public Defender Yvonne Smith Segars said. "There were many outstanding candidates here today. It's going to be very hard to narrow them down to just those we need. To know there are this many good candidates is very encouraging."
Senior attorneys who took part in the interviewing process reported a sense of fatigued exhilaration after grilling the potential public defenders for roughly four hours.
tell you the Public Defender's Office definitely has a future," said Deputy
Public Defender Jorge Godoy, who oversees the Cumberland County regional
office. "This was an excellent candidate pool and it's heartening
to see so many well-qualified candidates who can nourish our ongoing mission."
"Sometimes you'd be right in the middle of a sentence and have to stop," she said. "I just wish I'd had more time to make my case."
The NJOPD, established in 1967 as the first statewide public defender system in the nation, represents indigent clients in the Superior Courts of all 21 counties in New Jersey. It also houses units that provide attorneys for children and parents in abuse and neglect cases, as well as those people facing commitment to psychiatric facilities.
(Photos of the event are available to be e-mailed to those media who want