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Toms appointed Pa. county's new public defender

July 31, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Attorney Michael Toms will shutter his private Franklin County practice next month to become the county's new public defender.

The Franklin County Commissioners Tuesday announced Toms as their choice to replace Robert Trambley, who left the position in late April. Toms will officially take over Aug. 15.

As public defender, Toms will handle the most complex cases and oversee a staff of four full-time assistant public defenders and one part-timer, said Doug Price, Human Services division leader.

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Toms, 48, said his goal as public defender will be to change the public perception that a court-appointed attorney is not a "real lawyer."

"One thing that bothers me is when people say, 'I don't want a public defender, I want a real attorney,'" Toms said. "In reality, public defenders should be the most experienced attorneys."

Toms has been in private practice in Waynesboro, Pa., for more than a decade, but he has also served as a conflict attorney for the Public Defender's office for about eight years. In that capacity, he handled cases where there were multiple defendants or some other sort of conflict.

Toms said he will also focus on client satisfaction, which he thinks is one way of achieving his goal of improving the reputation of public defenders.

"Court-appointed clients need to feel they are getting good representation and deserve good representation," he said.

Toms said applying for the position was the natural evolution for his career.

"It's something I've always aspired to," Toms said. "I didn't go to law school because I was interested in making a lot of money."

As public defender, Toms will earn an annual salary of $54,464.

Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas said he is excited to have Toms fill the position.

"He is a diamond," Thomas said. "I feel he can be a tremendous example for young attorneys in this office."

Toms will spend the next couple of weeks helping his clients find new representation.

"My main concern is to see that everybody gets good representation," he said.

Toms will probably hang on to a few lingering private cases even after taking over the Public Defender's office.

He said he will continue to represent Sally Sellers, who is charged with murder in a fatal shooting at the Vietnam Veterans Post in Chambersburg two years ago because any change in her defense attorney could delay the trial - which is scheduled for September - by six months.

Toms was born and raised in Waynesboro, and he is a 1972 Waynesboro Area High School graduate.

He earned his law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1984, and most recently was a partner in the firm Toms & Evans.

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