Are public defender position difficult to obtain? I was under the impression (not to be offensive at all) that they were for bottom of the class, TTT type applicants. Am I completly off base here?
Completely off base. It's to the point where you can't fall backwards into any of these jobs. You need dedication to the cause.
Absolutely off. I think there may have been a time years ago where this might have been the case, but now-a-days, PD positions tend to be very competitive. However, "competitive" for other legal jobs usually tends to mean coming from a good school/high rank. With PD positions, the most relevant factors that make you competitive are dedication, practical experience, impressions (meaning, how those who interview you feel about you as a person, and, in their minds, as a trial lawyer), rank/school.
Not to underestimate rank/school, but a lot of PDs don't really value them as highly as other factors. I think there are many reasons but, I suspect, a lot of it has to do with the fact that older public defenders often didn't come from the highest ranked schools (or weren't even the highest ranked students). They probably figure if they're good public defenders and they didn't have the school/rank than it's not as important as the "intangibles."
Additionally, you have to analyze the competitiveness of landing a PD position with the office that you may be looking to get. I can tell you about PD positions in California since that's where I have my experience. If you're looking at counties like San Francisco, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, San Diego, then you're going to be up against some stiff competition. Even if you're looking at some of the smaller/less desirable counties like Fresno or Monterey, it's still competitive, but not as much as the bigger counties.
The real "trick" to landing a PD position is being able to hold-out for as long as possible. If you can volunteer your time and can do that for awhile, you'll significantly increase of chances of landing a position. A lot of counties are now hiring "volunteer attorneys," where you basically do all the work of a public defender but for no pay. (The offices will pay your insurance.) It's actually a great way to build that experience needed and a great way to get some trials in. But, unfortunately, not a lot of people are in a position where they can spend four months not earning money.