Local news

Federal Defenders office gets new director

Andrea K. George has just begun as the new executive director of the team of attorneys representing indigent crime suspects in Spokane and North Idaho. But the Wisconsin native is sure of one thing: The worst of Spokane’s weather doesn’t scare her at all.

“If this is what the winters are like, I can handle this,” George said with a laugh. “I love it.”

Last month, George replaced outgoing executive director Roger Peven at Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho in the job that advertised a salary of $155,000 a year.

Peven was a finalist to retain his job, but the board that oversees the public defenders instead chose George, 50, who had worked more than 22 years in the office that serves the same function in federal court in Minnesota. She had been chief litigator there since 2005.

“I always felt when I was the senior litigator in District of Minnesota that I had the greatest job in the whole world,” she said. “I feel when I am fully comfortable with every aspect of this job I, too, will feel this is the best job in the entire world.”

The search that resulted in George’s hiring began last year after the board decided to take a different direction in how the office, which includes more than 30 attorneys, is managed.

Jeffry Finer, the immediate past president of the board that oversees the federal defenders, previously said the search was not related to a January 2010 lawsuit filed by three former office attorneys who questioned Peven’s management techniques.

“Roger Peven is amongst the best attorneys in the area. We are fortunate to have him locally,” Finer said.

But, Finer added, “The skill set for being a trial lawyer may be different than administration.”

Peven, 62, led a team of defense attorneys who were appointed to represent Kevin W. Harpham, 37, who admitted leaving a bomb along the planned route of the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March in downtown Spokane.

He said he has met George and wishes her the best.

“I’m proud of my administration over the years,” said Peven, who replaced the highly regarded Judy Clarke in 2002. Before that, Peven had worked as a federal defender since 1992.

George grew up in Eau Claire, Wis., before attending the University of Wisconsin. She earned her law degree from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minn., in 1989, the same year she started working there as a federal defender.

“It is incredibly important work to defend those who are in most need of the best lawyers,” she said. “Those who are charged in federal court face tremendous odds. They face huge sentences and the government has invested a lot of time investigating the cases before we even get them.”

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