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In 1975 Hillary Rodham was appointed to defend Thomas Alfred Taylor who was accused of raping a 12-year-old.

As a public defender, could she have refused the case? She said she didn't want to do it. What could have happened to her if she refused the case?

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No. She was lawfully ordered by a judge presiding over the case, and, as a member of the bar, she had no right to refuse that appointment. She did, in fact, request that the judge choose a different attorney, but that request was declined.

Sources:

FactCheck.org - provides general background on case

Arkansas Judicial Rule 8.2 - Appointment of Counsel, which provides that:

Attorneys so appointed shall continue to represent the indigent accused until relieved for good cause or until substituted by other counsel.

Edit: Regarding penalties for noncompliance, refusing to represent the accused would be considered criminal contempt under state law, which provides in 16-10-108(a)(3) Arkansas Code that "willful disobedience of any process or order lawfully issued or made by it [the court]" is punishable as a Class C Misdemeanor, at least according to 2010 law. Also, professional sanctions might be involved, IANAL so no experience there.

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