The Public Defender’s Office will soon have a new leader.
Randy Mize, who rose through the ranks of the department to an executive role over the past 29 years, will become the County’s top Public Defender. Mize, 57, currently the department’s Chief Deputy of the Primary Public Defender, will replace outgoing Public Defender Henry Coker.
The County’s Public Safety Group on Friday announced the appointment of Mize to oversee the Public Defender’s Office, one of the largest legal operations in the region. Mize’s first day in the position will be March 31.
“I am humbled by the opportunity to lead such a dedicated team of attorneys, investigators, administrators and support staff,” Mize said.
He said he plans to continue the department’s fiscally responsible, collaborative approach in working with fellow public safety departments. The Public Defender’s core focus will continue to be on understanding the needs of clients, and providing less penal and more rehabilitative solutions, he said.
“In our mission statement, our number one priority is our clients,” Mize said. “We will continue to make them our number one priority.”
Mize will bring a wealth of experience – and expertise– to his new role. One of the original attorneys to join the Public Defender’s Office, he started in the department shortly after it was created in 1988. Mize became the juvenile delinquency branch supervisor in 1996, working on some of the department’s highest profile cases, including defending the Santana High School shooter Andy Williams in 2001. Since 2009, he has managed the Primary Public Defender’s Office, which employs 290 of the department’s 365 overall employees. In recent years, he has navigated an array of major policy and operational changes including the passage of AB 109, the state mandated realignment of prison inmates to local custody and post release supervision, and many other voter-approved initiatives.
Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Ron Lane, who manages the County’s Public Safety Group, said Mize is uniquely qualified to lead the Public Defender’s important and complex legal operation.
“His long and impressive career protecting and fighting for the rights of the accused, along with his tremendous leadership ability, will ensure the continued success of the San Diego Public Defender’s Office,” Lane said.
Mize spent most of his childhood on the East Coast, with the exception of a few years at Camp Pendleton where his father served in the Marine Corps. That experience made a strong impression, and he returned to San Diego in 1982 after receiving his bachelor’s degree in Industrial Management and Business Communication from Georgia Tech. Mize went on to earn a law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 1987, and began working at the Public Defender’s Office the following year.
Among Mize’s priorities as Public Defender are to continue increasing access to mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and other services, for clients. Recently, the department brought on two full-time mental health clinicians to assess clients and develop tailored rehabilitation plans that attorneys can present in court as alternatives to incarceration when appropriate. Mize said he also wants to keep growing the department’s post-conviction relief programs, including expungement workshops, rehabilitation certificates and other assistance setting aside misdemeanor convictions and reducing felonies to misdemeanors when warranted.
Mize will replace his longtime colleague Coker, who will step down after a lengthy career with the Public Defender’s Office. Coker became Public Defender in 2009, after 12 years as the Chief Deputy Public Defender in charge of managing all of the department’s branch offices. Over his nearly three decades of service, Coker worked on many high-profile cases. He also managed significant change within the department, capitalizing on innovative advances in technology, and helping establish an atmosphere of collaboration within the criminal justice system.
The Public Defender’s Office provides representation to those who are accused of crimes, including both adults and juveniles, but cannot afford to pay for their own defense.