Last Man Standing

In the 25 years that he's served as Hennepin County's first and only chief public defender, Bill Kennedy has earned a tough-as-nails reputation for the way he defends his clients, his staff, and himself. This year he's pitted against Hennepin County prose

          How it will all shake out is hard to tell. Some of Kennedy's erstwhile enemies seem to have mellowed: "I don't think there's a need for a change in the public defender's office right now," says Burke. The County Board has voted unanimously to support the chief's reappointment. Yet there's talk that a majority of state board members are inclined to vote against him. Members contacted for this story kept mum about their leanings.

          But while McGee is a strong candidate, Elgren's charges make it unclear whether his application will remain viable. There is a third finalist, Martin Berg, who served as the Roseau County attorney from '82 to '95. The state board's Dick Scherman says Berg now practices law in St. Paul, but the phone book doesn't list his office, and his chances of getting the job are slim, according to most observers.

          Some, including Edwards, speculate that McGee may be used as a "sacrificial lamb"--that he'll be appointed only to be removed later, thus making room for a candidate who will "toe the line." Another scenario is that the board will decline to make a decision Thursday, and instead reopen the application process. That probably would begin a free-for-all among candidates who have thus far waited in the wings. And there's always the possibility that Kennedy will be grudgingly reappointed, perhaps with the hope that this will be his last term.

          The chief, meanwhile, is not hiding his pleasure very well as he heads into the fray. "I know it's tough out there for lawyers," he says, "but I think I could make a living. I'll take whatever comes. What I can tell you is that whether I'm appointed or not, there will be consequences. There will"--that grave, slow cadence again--"be consequences."

          "I'd be lying if I said I don't enjoy a good fight when I'm right. And I don't care who's on the other side. They're still outnumbered."

          News Intern Kathryn Herzog contributed to this story.

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