Public Safety

Public Defender Shares Justice Model with Nigerian Official

Nigerian Barrister Abdullahi Wahab Zakari, at left, meets with Public Defender Randy Mize, center, and retired Public Defender Henry Coker to discuss how the County Public Defender's Office operates in collaboration with San Diego County's legal community.

A top Nigerian justice official met with members of the San Diego County Public Defender’s Office to learn about the local model for criminal defense.

Barrister Abdullahi Wahab Zakari, assistant director of the Ministry of Justice in Nigeria’s Kogi State, sat down Wednesday afternoon with Public Defender Randy Mize, retired Public Defender Henry Coker, Chief Primary Public Defender Angela Bartosik and Deputy Public Defender Jesus Romero to discuss how the County office operates.

“The objective is to actually look at the structure and the working of the institutions with a view to replicate the model cohesively and to facilitate access to justice and justice delivered,” Zakari said.

“The goal is a speedy dispensation of justice. It is found that our justice system has challenges that delays trial that allow for prison conditions that encourage crime. And questions were asked, ‘What can we do?’”

The meetings are being arranged through a partnership with the Conference of Western Attorneys General (CWAG)’s Alliance Partnership, which has been working in Mexico for 10 years and has recently expanded to include various countries on the African continent. The international program seeks to strengthen legal systems in other countries and establish cross-jurisdictional cooperation on law enforcement and judicial issues, said Susan Lustig, CWAG administrative director.

CWAG has worked with the San Diego Public Defenders Office to help train and consult with Mexican lawyers, judges and magistrates as the country transitioned to an adversarial legal system. As a result of this work, the partnership held up San Diego County as an example of a model justice system due to collaboration between justices, the prosecutorial side and the defense side as well as law enforcement to seek alternative sentencing, treatment, counseling and rehabilitation.

Mize told Zakari the collaboration between the various justice offices in San Diego, which are traditionally adversarial, is a more effective dispensation of justice. He said they work together to offer mental health clinicians and substance abuse evaluators to find treatment for some defendants, rather than jail or prison. These kind of services help reduce recidivism, Mize said.

Mize provided Zakari with the San Diego County Public Defender Attorneys manual and the Investigator manual files for his review and customization. Zakari said he was pleased with this very practical application to take back to share with his office.

Mize told Zakari to “find the young law students and make them passionate about criminal defense and about helping their fellow man. And you have to bring them in and train them, constant training, that’s how you create the office.”

Coker remarked that hiring public defenders was his favorite part of his job when he was in office because he liked to see the young attorneys’ spark for justice.

Mize let Zakari know that if needed, his office would be happy to offer technical support to implement an office of public defense in Nigeria.

As part of Zakari’s four-day visit, he has plans to meet with the San Diego County District Attorney, federal, appellate and superior court justices, the Federal Public Defender’s Office, the state Attorney General’s Office and the California Innocence Project at the California Western School of Law.

Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact