Local resident promoted to full-time public defender
Nov 28, 2012 (Daily Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
SAN BERNARDINO -- The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors appointed Apple Valley resident Phyllis Morris as the full-time public defender after she served as the interim head for two years.
The supervisors voted 4-0 in a closed session meeting Tuesday, with 2nd District Supervisor Janice Rutherford absent.
"It took longer than I anticipated, but the county was faced with a lot of issues. We went through a series of budget cuts," Morris, 54, said. "But I'm happy."
The Board of Supervisors appointed her as interim public defender in December 2010 after her predecessor, Doreen Boxer, abruptly resigned amid allegations of poor morale and hostile workplace.
Morris became the county's first black public defender, overseeing a $32 million budget and 245 positions. Since then, the office had to lay off 10 people due to budgetary constraints, Morris said.
Meanwhile, Morris implemented digitization of documents, giving out iPads to all attorneys so they can access information anywhere, anytime. The project was initiated by two attorneys in her office.
"She's well respected because of her ability and she's well liked," said Acting Chief Deputy Public Defender Mark Shoup, who's known Morris for 26 years.
The public defender's office is also implementing an IT project to link its own database with the court database to make it easier for attorneys to access information. Morris said she would focus on attorney training to provide better defense for clients.
"I would like to be the best public defender in the state of California and to continue to embrace technology in terms of achieving efficiency within the department," Morris said.
Due to prison realignment and Three Strikes reform law, her office needs to collaborate even more with other law enforcement and county agencies, she said.
Growing up in the civil rights era, Morris said she dreamed of serving disadvantaged populations.
Morris graduated from Victor Valley High School as the school's first black valedictorian. She joined the county Public Defender's office in 1984 and became chief deputy public defender in 2002.
The county's public defender makes $242,944 in total wages, which makes Morris the 17th highest paid county official, according to the State Controller's Office.
Tomoya Shimura may be reached at (760) 955-5368 or TShimura@VVDailyPress.com. Follow Tomoya on Facebook at facebook.com/ShimuraTomoya.
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