Mac Carder Jr., the new chief public defender for the Little Rock-based Public Defender’s Office, is a veteran with 29 years as a public defender, 21 of whom have worked in the capital.
The office serves the 6th Judicial District of Perry and Pulaski counties, providing attorneys for clients who are in trouble with the law but cannot afford legal representation. That can represent up to 90% of all defendants in the region, Carder said.
The new chief public defender said he always wanted to be a defense attorney despite securing a front-row seat in Arkansas politics from his namesake father, who died in 2017.
Mac John Carder Sr. served as a director of the Liquor Control Administration beginning in 1979 by appointment of the then Governor. Bill Clinton, then Clinton’s successor, Frank White, before taking over as head of the Wholesale Beer Distributors Association of Arkansas trade group in 1981 for 26 years.
Rather than following in his father’s footsteps, Carder said a passion for defending the oppressed, especially the wrongfully accused, led him to the practice of law, always with the goal of working in criminal defense, a he declared.
“Knowing how it sounds, the game is stacked against you…I wanted to help them out,” Carder said. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do, help people. It’s because they’re on equal footing at the start and throughout the process.”
A father of two and married to fellow public defender, Brandy Turner, Carder spent eight years in a special unit of the statewide public defender program representing capital murder defendants across Arkansas subject to the death penalty, before returning to the office in Little Rock in 2002.
Carder said he chose a career as a public defender because working for the agency allowed him to focus on serving his clients without having to worry about the business aspects of running a law firm. , like having to collect money from them.
“I’m not a businessman,” he said. “Running a law firm…for me, that would take away from just focusing on defending people.
The public should view public defenders as the first line of defense against wrongful convictions, which now regularly make headlines, Carder said.
“There has been a lot of injustice. What we are doing is vital for the system to work properly and fairly,” he said. “We are the guardians against wrongful convictions. Everyone should have an interest in [justice] is done correctly.”
Chosen by the circuit’s 17 judges, as required by Arkansas code 16-87-303, Carder was selected from five candidates to succeed Bill Simpson, who retired after 42 years as a defenseman in chief. He said he only applied at the last minute after other lawyers, other advocates and some prosecutors urged him to apply for the job, which brings in $124,000 a year.
“It took a lot of thought and I struggled with the decision for quite a while. I thought because of my experience and having practiced in all [criminal] courts of the 6th arrondissement… I could do some good.”
Carder, 63, said Simpson hired him early in his career after seeing Carder broadcast a potential showdown with a judge trying to bait Carder into an argument.
“Bill was an ideal boss who never interfered with a lawyer’s handling of a case because he assumed the lawyer knew or should know more about the case than anyone else,” Carder said. “I respected the autonomy he left me and by his example I learned to maintain a professional and courteous manner with judges and prosecutors but never to compromise by asserting a zealous defense of our clients, however unpopular their cause may be.”
Carder said his top priority as chief public defender was to uphold the high standards set by Simpson while working to overcome the vast backlog of cases left behind by the court’s 2020 covid pandemic closure. -21.
“[Clients] can expect to be represented by someone who is an expert in the field of criminal defense,” he said. I would place some of the attorneys in our office at the top of the best attorneys in the state. They [clients] can expect zealous representation.”
Each lawyer can now expect to handle up to 400 cases at a time, four times what was considered a high workload before the pandemic, he said. The office has 33 full-time and part-time attorneys, with openings for seven full-time attorneys.
The addition of nine more specially funded lawyers to help manage the surplus has been helpful, but there’s still a lot of work to do before the office can return to pre-coronavirus levels, Carder said.
“We are in urgent need … because of the excessive workload,” Carder said, describing how the stress alone pushed lawyers who intended to embark on a career in public defense out of the way. ground. “It’s overwhelming for any lawyer. It’s beyond what any lawyer should have to do.
“Anything that was considered a high workload before the pandemic, it’s not worth what we have now,” he said.