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05 November, 2023
# Topics

2004 Timer Moses Award - Randi Hood

05 November, 2023

[Reprinted from Independent Record]

Hood named state's top public defender
By CAROLYNN BRIGHT - IR Staff Writer - 03/10/05

"Just hang on a minute," Chief Public Defender Randi Hood says as she fumbles through her purse at her desk in the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse.

She smiles triumphantly as she pulls out a folded $5 bill. She hurries down the hallway and hands the bill to her assistant with the instructions that a phone card be purchased for one of her clients.

Hood sits back down, apologizes for the interruption and explains that the client is elderly and homeless. She wants to make sure he is able to call her if he needs to.

Extending that helping hand probably isn't in Hood's job description, but it appears to be entrenched in her moral make-up.

That's part of the reason members of the Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers selected Hood as the outstanding defense attorney of the year recently. She will receive the award at a conference next week at Chico Hot Springs.

Attorney Michael Donahoe, president of the association, said association members respect Hood's experience in the field of criminal defense and her dedication to providing her clients with the best legal counsel possible.

"It's her steadiness (that impressed the committee)," Donahoe said. "She's willing to put the time in."

Hood didn't seem particularly excited about being interviewed for an article for the newspaper about her award Wednesday, but that's part of her personality, too.

While her standard response to questions from reporters is, "No comment," she always has a lot to say when it comes to defending her clients in court.

From dawn till dusk for the past 17 years, Hood has scrambled from one court hearing to the next, providing legal advice to her indigent clients in Lewis and Clark County. Prior to moving to Helena, she spent five years doing the same for defendants in Missoula.

"It's always interesting, it's always fast-paced," she said of her job. "My best days are when I'm juggling 10 different things at once."

Hood handles all kinds of cases ranging from dependent neglect, to misdemeanors, to the most heinous of felonies. So, more often than not, she's having a good day by her interpretation.

For the most part, Hood is known to the general public for her representation of some of Lewis and Clark County's most notorious criminals.

She stood next to Paul Jenkins when he and co-defendant Fred Joe Lawrence were accused of beating Helena-area resident Donna Meagher to death with a crowbar.

She defended Richard Shreves after he gunned down Walker Byrd in the driveway of his mother's home.

Most recently, she fought for Jared Rosling's acquittal after he stabbed 21-year-old Jessica Dooley to death and left her body on the floor of her bathroom.

Hood says that while most people don't understand her willingness to defend such clients, her years in the public defenders office have taught her that offenders are people who deserve legal representation, no matter how monstrous the acts of which they are accused.

"I always think my clients are innocent, but sometimes I think to myself, ‘We don't have the greatest case here,'" she said.

Hood explains she enjoys rising to that challenge, especially in the courtroom in front of the jury.

"You have to think on your feet," she said of trial work. "No matter how well prepared you are, there's always an element of the unexpected."

Along with her successes in the courtroom, Hood has had her share of losses. She's always disappointed for her client when she doesn't achieve her desired outcome in a case.

But she says the only time she really gets discouraged is when she works diligently to get a client a good deal in court only to have that person return to her office a few weeks later because he or she didn't abide by the rules established by the judge. She has a number of repeat customers.

"You go to the well with the same person a lot of times and that gets you down a little bit," Hood said.

Hood says the good far outweighs the bad in her job.

"I sometimes can feel like I've made a difference in people's lives," she explains.

Hood adds she has been fortunate to work with a number of gifted attorneys at the public defenders office, along with an efficient support staff.

Her support network extends to her home and her prosecutor husband, John Connor.

"He wasn't a prosecutor when I married him," Hood says, laughing. "Seriously, we both have the ability to truly respect what the other does."

Hood says the stresses that she can't shrug off during her brisk walk to and from work every day, she shares with her husband.

While there are some clear professional lines drawn between the two due to the nature of their jobs, Hood said she and Connor often use each other as sounding boards.

The couple have two grown children.

"I will do this for my entire career," Hood said of her duties as a public defender. "This is what I do and I anticipate I'll be an even older lady doing it."