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Local News

County Supervisors Honor 40th Anniversary of Public Defender’s Office

The board adopts a resolution declaring June 1-7 as Public Defender Week

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted a resolution honoring the 40th anniversary of the county Public Defender’s Office by declaring June 1-7 as Public Defender Week.

County Public Defender Greg Paraskou was on hand to receive the resolution, which was adopted with a unanimous 5-0 vote by the board at Tuesday’s meeting.

In addition to the resolution, Judge Arthur Garcia, presiding judge of the Superior Court in Santa Barbara County, on Tuesday also offered his congratulations to the Public Defender’s Office.

“The government is obligated to provide legal representation to those individuals facing criminal prosecution who are unable to afford legal counsel. For 40 years, the Public Defender’s Office of Santa Barbara County has fulfilled that obligation,” Garcia said. “The Superior Court of Santa Barbara County congratulates the Public Defender’s Office for well and faithfully serving the people and the County of Santa Barbara.”

The Public Defender’s Office was established after the unanimous, landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963 in Gideon vs. Wainwright that said state courts are required under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to provide legal counsel in criminal cases for defendants who are unable to afford their own attorneys.

As a result, the Santa Barbara County Public Defender’s Office began in 1969 to fulfill that constitutional mandate. Before that, the county had appointed private attorneys to represent indigent defendants, but the Public Defender’s Office was established to handle the growing demands of providing legal representation for all indigent criminal defendants, Paraskou said.

“The Public Defender’s Office plays a vital role in our nation’s judicial system. When we defend the rights of those who cannot afford an attorney, we are really defending the ability of our system to provide equal representation and justice for everybody,” Paraskou said.

The Public Defender’s Office handles about 23,000 cases per year with 31 attorneys and 35 support staff, Paraskou said.

Over the years, the Santa Barbara County Public Defender has had a proud history of “firsts” and innovation, Paraskou said, including being the first public defender office in California to hire a woman as an assistant public defender and a woman as a chief investigator, a professional standard now emulated by public defender offices throughout the state.

Paraskou said that in 1996, Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt was hired as the chief investigator for the Public Defender’s Office, a position she still holds today. In 1979, Bobbie Beck was hired as the assistant public defender for the North County/Santa Maria Division. Beck would later be appointed to the bench in 1984.

— William Boyer is Santa Barbara County’s communications director.

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