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The Montana Public Defender Commission announced yesterday it has hired William Hooks of Helena as the new chief public defender.

Hooks has a lot of experience with public defense. He has participated in some high-profile defense cases, including successfully litigating a challenge to a conviction is a sex case that represents Montana's first exoneration based on the use of DNA evidence.

And Hooks has a lot of work in store for him leading the Montana department in charge of defending indigent clients across the state. He is charged with overseeing a five-year-old department that is expreiencing some growing pains. While a vast improvement over the previous piecemeal county-by-county public defense system, the Office of the Public Defender faces a number of challenges moving into the future.

He will "face systemic challenges of inadequate funding to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished," says ACLU of Montana Executive Director Scott Crichton in an interview with Lee Newspapers. "Under the change in the law and under the reviews that have been done by us and the American University team, having someone to pay fulltime attention to the management of the system is essential for the system's success."

American University reviewed the public defender system in Montana back in 2009 and found a number of problems. Some have yet to be  addressed and were reiterated in our own report in October of 2011.

We found that the OPD has yet to correct its failure to collect caseload information in a systematic way; to improve overall department management; to control attorney caseloads; to provide adequate resources for investigators and experts, among other issues.

We wish Hooks the best of luck in his new post. We know he is committed to providing quality indigent defense.

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