HAILEY — Blaine County has hired its first-ever chief public defender.
Justin McCarthy will lead the county’s new in-house public defense office, county commissioners announced Tuesday.
McCarthy has been the assistant regional conflict counsel for the 19th Judicial Circuit Court in Fort Pierce, Florida, since 2017. Prior to that, he worked for five years as a public defender in the 19th Circuit.
Blaine County, which currently contracts with private attorneys for public defense services, announced in February that it would create its own in-house public defender’s office in light of recent statewide reforms to the public defense system, including new caseload standards. The hope, Commission Chairman Jacob Greenberg, previously told the Times-News, was that establishing a county public defense office would make compliance with these reforms easier.
Commissioner Angenie McCleary told the Times-News on Tuesday that McCarthy’s “excellent” trial court experience and familiarity with immigration law were some of the factors that set him apart from the two other finalists interviewed by the Blaine County Commission.
“We have a large Latino population, and within our Latino population that’s involved in needing public defense, there are sometimes issues of immigration that come up,” McCleary said.
The county currently has access to, and will continue to have access to, a specialized immigration lawyer to deal with immigration matters, McCleary said. “But I think having his own experience will be helpful in that regard,” she added.
McCarthy is slated to start his new role on May 31 and will have roughly four months to establish Blaine County’s public defense office, which the county hopes will be up and running by Oct. 1. The current plan is for McCarthy to hire one additional attorney, one paralegal, and one administrative staff person, McCleary said, although that lineup could change depending on the office’s needs and budget.
“I think he’ll do a really excellent job of not only serving as legal counsel, but as a leader who has to set up an office for public defense in Blaine County,” McCleary said. “I thought he also just really had an enthusiasm for the type of work and the position.”