Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday appointed Kathleen Pozzi to lead the Public Defender's Office, promoting her from interim department head more than a year after the retirement of her predecessor.
Pozzi, the longest-serving attorney in an office responsible for indigent defense, had been in charge since the March 2012 departure of John Abrahams.
She is the first woman to hold the position.
"I'm honored," Pozzi said. "I look forward to working with my criminal justice partners and continuing to serve people in need."
Her appointment was lauded by fellow lawyers and judges who commended her record as a trial attorney and her leadership of the 50-employee department with a budget of nearly $10 million.
Each year, the office handles 2,000 new felony cases and about 12,000 misdemeanors.
Judge Elliot Daum, a former Sonoma County deputy public defender who worked alongside Pozzi for 14 years, said she brings unrivaled institutional knowledge and a commitment to teaching younger attorneys. She is an instructor at her alma mater, Empire College School of Law in Santa Rosa.
"She is a phenomenal teacher and a great professor of criminal law," said Daum, who also teaches classes at Empire. "That knowledge just enhances her status as public defender. She really knows the law."
District Attorney Jill Ravitch said Pozzi understands the complexities of the criminal justice system and has proven herself as an acting department head. She said she first encountered Pozzi as a courtroom adversary more than 20 years ago and continues to hold her in high regard.
"We agree to disagree on many levels but she does it with great professionalism and a keen sense of ethics," Ravitch said. "I respect that."