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Maryland gets new chief public defender

Four months after controversy led to the ouster of its chief, the Maryland government agency that provides legal defense to poor people has a new leader.

He is Paul DeWolfe, who has held a similar, albeit smaller, position in Montgomery County for nine years. The new post took effect Tuesday.

"I love representing the underdog," DeWolfe said Tuesday.

What about when they appear absolutely, totally guilty -- and does he get cornered at cocktail parties with that question?

Yes, to the cornering. And yes, he said, all criminal defendants need representation to make the whole system work: "It’s very gratifying work."

DeWolfe, 61, grew up in Massachusetts and graduated from the Potomac School of Law in the District. He worked 10 years as an assistant public defender in Montgomery County and 10 years in private practice before taking over Montgomery County’s public defender office. In that job, he supervised 31 attorneys and about 30 support staffers.

Montgomery’s top prosecutor said DeWolfe was easy to work with and that his management skill and candor. “I’m going to miss the opportunity to pick up the phone and speak my mind,” said State's Attorney John McCarthy.

DeWolfe’s new title is Maryland Public Defender. His agency, based in Baltimore, oversees district offices throughout the state.

The previous Maryland Public Defender, Nancy Forster, was fired in August in a 2-1 vote by the agency’s governing board. In an interview Tuesday, she said she intends to sue for damages and -- if there are changes to the structure of the governing board -- to get her job back.

She said she also will go after personal damages from the two board members who voted to fire her: T. Wray McCurdy and Margaret A Mead. “I’m fighting for my name. I think my reputation has really been besmirched,” she said.

Asked about the possibility his predecessor may want her old job back, DeWolfe declined to comment, citing the possible litigation.

-- Dan Morse

By Dan Morse  |  December 9, 2009; 8:17 AM ET
Categories:  Dan Morse , Internal Affairs , Maryland , Montgomery  
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