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L.A. County hasn't had a public defender in 2 years. It just appointed one

L.A. County hasn't had a public defender in 2 years. It just appointed one
Deputy Public Defenders Jan Datomi, left, and Susan Roe hold signs as deputy public defenders and supporters ralled in Grand Park in February to protest their new boss, Interim Public Defender Nicole Davis Tinkham. Tinkham will be succeeded by Ricardo Garcia. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has selected criminal defense attorney Ricardo Garcia as the county’s new public defender.

Garcia will take over as head of the oldest and largest public defender’s office in the nation, with 700 attorneys who provide criminal defense services for adults and juveniles who cannot afford their own lawyers. The office has been without a permanent head since Ronald Brown retired in 2016.

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Garcia is a supervising attorney in the San Diego County public defender’s office. He started there as a trial attorney in 1995 and was later recruited to the Department of the Alternate Public Defender, which defends cases where the public defender may have a conflict of interest, often because multiple people have been charged in a single case.

From 2004 to 2006 Garcia served as the criminal justice director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, according to the news release. In that position he monitored the Los Angeles Police Department’s compliance with a federal civil rights consent decree and conditions in L.A. County jails.

Garcia later returned to the San Diego County public defender’s office, most recently supervising in the multiple conflicts office/major cases section.

Garcia will take over the office from Interim Public Defender Nicole Davis Tinkham, a former deputy county counsel who has defended sheriff’s deputies in lawsuits against the county.

Deputy public defenders protested Tinkham’s appointment at a rally in February, saying that she lacked the necessary experience representing indigent clients and that her history with the Sheriff’s Department represented a conflict of interest.

Tiffiny Blacknell, a veteran attorney who helped organize that rally, said she is “more than excited” about Garcia’s appointment.

“We are impressed with the caliber of attorney the board has selected to run our office and optimistic about the era of criminal justice reform we are poised to lead,” Blacknell said. “All we ever wanted was quality leadership to further our great cause and we believe Ricardo Garcia to be such a leader.”

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously for Garcia in closed session Tuesday. His salary and start date are expected to be finalized by the board at its next public meeting on Sept. 4.

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