Attorney David Duke has opened a private practice in Billings, and nearly five months after he left his position as chief deputy for the Billings Public Defenders, that position remains unfilled.

Duke began renting a space in a downtown office building this month and is taking on new clients. He left the public defender's office in March without a clear explanation, and won't comment publicly on issues regarding the Public Defender's office. 

Douglas Day, Chief Deputy Public Defender of Region 7 in Lewistown, has replaced Duke on an interim basis.

The Billings Public Defenders office has the largest caseload in the state system. The Billings opening has not been posted, and Chief Public Defender Bill Hooks has not responded to requests for information on the search for Duke's replacement. 

Duke's new office at 316 N 33rd St., hosts several criminal lawyers. Duke plans to represent both criminal and civil clients. 

Duke was appointed Deputy Chief Public Defender of Region 9 in 2008 by then State Chief Public Defender Randi Hood. At the time, Duke replaced Billings attorney Kris Copenhaver, who was deputy chief for two years. Duke worked several high-profile cases in Yellowstone County, including the serial rape trial of Toby Griego and several murder trials. His office was strained by a growing caseload. 

For fiscal year 2015, Region 9 handled about 7,500 cases — 22 percent of the state's workload. Every public defender in the office except for two was assigned more work than state target recommendations, including case loads more than 50 percent higher than recommended.

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Justice reporter for The Billings Gazette.