Members of three bar association groups, representing women and minority attorneys, yesterday defended the selection of former prosecutor Cheryl Long to head the D.C. Public Defender Service -- a selection that has led to cries of outrage from the defender staff and a court challenge.

Cecilie A. Vaughters, chairwoman of the Washington Bar Association, said at a news conference that her organization and others are "furious" about implications that Long is "not qualified to be the director . . . simply because she has the fortune of having the opportunity to serve as a prosecutor, which until recent years was a rarity for a black attorney."

The selection of Long by the agency's board of trustees on April 2 has been protested by the staff of the defender service, and one member of the board has filed suit to stop the appointment.

The Rev. Msgr. Joaquin A. Bazan charged in his lawsuit that the selection was made by "secret ballot" and without discussion among members, at a meeting illegally closed to the public. The suit is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow.

Bazan and staff members have criticized the naming of a former prosecutor, who has no experience defending clients in criminal cases, to head the city agency that represents defendants charged with serious crimes.

Board Chairman Vincent H. Cohen has defended the selection as fair, adding that the board cannot "bow to pressure" and will fight Bazan's allegations in court.

Two trustees said that Long was selected by a vote of 6 to 4, with one abstention, over the agency's current deputy director, Charles Ogletree, a black lawyer who has the support of the defender staff.

Yesterday Vaughters, joined by representatives of the Women Lawyers Division of the National Bar Association and the National Association of Black Women Attorneys, charged that critics have ignored Long's reputation and credentials.

Long, a graduate of Georgetown University Law School, has served in the U.S. Attorney's Office and now is with the Justice Department.

According to Vaughters, Long is a fine trial lawyer whose experience as a prosecutor "is more of a plus than a minus," and would help her "anticipate what prosecutors will do" in criminal cases.