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Published: Saturday, 7/5/2008

City of Toledo gets federal defender's office

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

For 35 years, the federal defender has had a presence in northern Ohio and assistant federal defenders have both taken on and helped in cases in U.S. District Court in Toledo. But until now they've had to travel from Cleveland to do it.

The Federal Defender's office for the Northern District of Ohio has expanded into Toledo. Currently housing two assistant federal defenders, an investigator, and a branch administrative assistant, the office space at 617 Adams St. will be both the home of the new division as well as a resource for Toledo's legal community.

"It seems to me that what are always needed are additional experienced defense attorneys. No community ever has enough," said Judge James Carr, chief judge of the U.S. District Court's Northern District of Ohio. "A nice aspect of this is that this is not just a public defender's office but an office that can be used by any member of the Toledo Bar Association," he said.

Currently in Ohio's northern district, federal defenders are placed in three of the four communities where there are federal courthouses - a main office in Cleveland and satellite offices in the federal courthouses in Akron and Youngstown. The Adams Street office will be its first in the northern district's western division, said Dennis Terez, federal defender for the Northern District of Ohio.

Attorneys in the federal defender's office are appointed by U.S. District Court judges to represent indigent defendants from before they are indicted through final appeals, Mr. Terez said. Recently, attorneys from the federal defender's Cleveland office were appointed to represent Mohammad Amawi, one of the Toledo-area defendants recently convicted of terrorism-related crimes after a more than two-month trial.

"This is the Constitution at work," Mr. Terez said, adding that the Sixth Amendment guarantees everyone the right to representation. "We'll make sure the system works as it should."

Attorneys Donna Grill, who has been in private practice in Toledo, and former Wood County assistant defender Andy Hart have been hired on in the office. Additional staffing will require approval from the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and budgetary approval from Washington, Mr. Terez said.

There are more than 90 federal defenders offices in the country with only a handful of districts not having offices, he added. The Cleveland office opened in September, 1973.

Attorney Dick Malone, a partner with Malone, Ault, and Farell and president of the Toledo Bar Association, said the Toledo legal community is excited about the resource. He added that many lawyers will likely take advantage of any programs and expertise offered.

"It's consistent with what we're trying to promote here in Toledo as far as our relationship with fellow members of the bar as well as our relationship with the community [are concerned]," Mr. Malone said. "It's another resource that we can promote to our members as well as let the public know that the federal public defender is their access to representation."

Mr. Terez said the office plans to open its space to attorneys as well as provide training and programming. He added that the office also will begin an intern program for local law students and possibly fellowships.

Martin McManus frequently works in federal court as an appointed attorney in criminal cases. He said that the office likely will offer expertise to appointed attorneys who handle a variety of cases and that the resource extends beyond Toledo to federal defender's offices nationwide.

"The wealth of knowledge and expertise they have not only from this office but from other offices in the country will be a great asset to the legal community and the defendants," he said.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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