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More than 200 would-be public defenders swarmed the Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton, N.J., on Jan. 25 in the first recruitment day held by the public defender’s office. The event was part of an effort to hire about 30 lawyers to replenish a legal staff left depleted by last year’s early retirement program for state workers. Lured by a starting salary of at least $47,217, they converged on the hiring fair from New Jersey, New York and as far away as Washington, D.C. In the course of five hours, they were grilled and scrutinized by about 50 public defender employees, including Public Defender Yvonne Smith Segars, First Assistant Joan Richardson, Assistants Dale Jones and Joseph Krakora and the heads of every regional office and special unit. A total of 195 applicants had interviews, while other job hopefuls who showed up left without being interviewed because they did not have time to wait out the lines, says public defender spokesman Jeffrey Beach. The three-round interview process involved two one-on-one segments where applicants were grilled on their qualifications for five minutes and then had another five minutes to explain why they wanted the job. It was the third, five-minute round, however, referred to by Beach as “the hot seat,” that was the toughest. During that segment, six three-member teams presented interviewees with hypothetical ethics scenarios. The office would not release the actual questions but gave an example of the type of question: What would you do if a client charged with homicide, out on bail, comes to your office with a gun that he says is the murder weapon? There was no single correct answer, but interviewers tried to get a sense of how people reacted to the hypothetical and follow-up questions, says Beach. The high turnout was the fruit of an intensive advertising campaign in newspapers, at law schools, among bar groups and on the Internet. As a result, 270 r�sum�s flooded the public defender’s office in the weeks leading up to the event. The ads touted the compelling nature of criminal defense practice as depicted in books (“To Kill a Mockingbird”), movies (“And Justice for All”) and television shows (“The Practice”). The public defender set up an e-mail address, [email protected], to handle the response. About 60 callbacks are expected and they had already begun last week, with “steady streams of people waiting in the lobby for interviews,” says Beach.

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