Veteran defense lawyer appointed Riverside County's new public defender

RIVERSIDE, Calif - A Riverside County defense attorney who has been practicing law for 40 years -- 10 of those years under county contract -- was today named the county's public defender.

Steve Harmon, 65, is slated to begin his duties before the end of the current fiscal year, taking over management of an agency with a roughly $33 million annual budget and 225 employees.

Harmon was hired by county CEO Jay Orr following a selection process that began two weeks after the Nov. 7 departure of then-Riverside County Public Defender Gary Windom, who had been in the position since 1999 and left amid allegations of internal conflicts.

Brian Boles, who formerly served as assistant public defender, was appointed as the interim public defender and will continue in that role until Harmon takes the helm.

"Steve is a fine attorney and will be a good leader for the public defender's office," veteran Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Mike Hestrin told City News Service.

The two have known each other for 15 years.

"He's very well respected by both the defense Bar and by prosecutors," Hestrin added. "I'm sure he'll do a great job."

Harmon became a criminal defense attorney in 1972. In 2002, he and associate Paul Grech formed Criminal Defense Lawyers Inc. and won an indigent defense contract with the county that continues to this day. Under the agreement, CDL picks up felony and misdemeanor cases in which the Office of the Public Defender declares a conflict.

CDL handled indigent defense cases in the entire western county region until 2011, when the contracts were divvied up after criticism about how they had been awarded in the first place. CDL now handles cases in Murrieta and Banning, while the law offices of Virginia Blumenthal provides attorneys for indigent defense in the Riverside metropolitan area.

Harmon is a past president of the Riverside County Bar Association and has represented clients in around 350 jury trials, including four death penalty cases.

His county salary will be $223,000 per year, plus benefits and a car allowance. 

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