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Public defenders critical of new statewide boss

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Several attorneys in Minnesota's state public defender's office are being unusually vocal with criticisms of a new colleague hired to lead their office.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports today that the controversy started after the Board of Public Defense hired David Merchant as chief appellate public defender. He was chosen over several internal candidates and raised hackles immediately by announcing that unlike his predecessor, he would not try cases himself.

The public defender's office represents Minnesota's poorest defendants and are burdened by perennially heavy workloads. That and other factors led several top lawyers in the office to write letters to the board complaining that Merchant's hiring was "insulting and demoralizing" in the words of one, and "nothing short of shocking" according to another.