I'm often asked by a prospective client charged with a Seattle or Tacoma DUI (or other criminal matter), or posed via Avvo, whether they should hire their own attorney or "go with a public defender (PD)." My answer is simple - that "choice" should already be determined.
Our Constitution guarantees those accused with a crime the right to counsel. If you cannot afford an attorney then you will be provided one (on the taxpayers' dime of course). If you can afford one, however, then you have to either hire one or go it alone (which is of course ill-advised). I don't know about others but I will never say anything bad about public defenders. I have been on public defender conflict panels in the past, and continue to take on a conflict case on occasion. I fought just as hard for those clients as I do those who retained me privately. Most PDs I know are dedicated attorneys who fight hard for their clients. I also know some who I would not wish on my worse enemy. I'd say the same about private defense attorneys.
One practical reality is caseload. Public defenders generally have caseloads many times greater than private attorneys. While a person has complete control over which private attorney they hire, he has no control over which PD is assigned to his case (or even appears at a given court hearing). PDs generally do not handle civil matters associated with the criminal charge - Department of Licensing (DOL) hearings, for instance, or civil Protection Order matters in other courts.
So when it comes to representation, the "choice" really isn't whether to go with a public defender or hire an attorney. If you can afford an attorney on your own, or have access to resources that would allow you to, then you should - after exhaustive research (Avvo is a great resource for this). If not, the court will appoint a public defender and you will most likely be in good hands.