Sonoma County hires new public defender to lead office of 54

Brian Morris, the assistant public defender in Marin County since 2015, will replace Kathleen Pozzi, who retired last month.|

Sonoma County has hired a new public defender to lead its legal office with a $14.5 million annual budget and staff of attorneys, investigators and others who represent those who can’t afford a lawyer.

Brian Morris, 53, began working as a public defender in Marin County in 2001 and has been the assistant public defender, the No. 2 job, since 2015.

Morris is returning to Sonoma County, after briefly working here as a deputy public defender about 20 years ago. He will replace Kathleen Pozzi, the public defender since 2013 who retired in September.

Morris’ contract will be considered Nov. 2 at a meeting of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. He is expected to start work Dec. 1 with an annual salary of $231,084.

“My focus from the start will be on listening to every staff member, county department leaders, community leaders and our clients,” he said. “I will be listening for client needs and for solutions that will help our clients and strengthen the community.”

In Marin, he earned a reputation for innovation and collaboration, resulting in positive outcomes for public defender clients, Sonoma County officials said in a statement Monday announcing his hiring.

Morris said he was attracted to Sonoma in part because his values align with the county’s five-year plan.

“Sonoma County’s 2021 strategic plan is on the cutting edge regarding enhancing the lives of people from underserved populations,” he said. “The county has committed to solutions such as housing people experiencing homelessness, expanding detention alternatives and providing appropriate community response to people experiencing a psychiatric emergency.

“I am directly aligned with these types of solutions and I am excited to help shape this new five-year plan."

The Public Defender’s Office is responsible for representing anyone who can’t afford legal counsel in area superior courts. The 54-person office handled about 2,100 felony cases, 9,000 misdemeanor cases and 500 juvenile cases in fiscal year 2020-21.

The office also handles conservatorship proceedings, child support contempt and mental health hearings, and provides representation in specialty courts such as drug court, domestic violence court, mental health court, driving under the influence court, veterans court and homeless court.

“Brian’s extensive litigation experience and passion for person-centered representation will continue a tradition of positive outcomes for Sonoma County residents who are unable to hire an attorney for financial reasons,” Lynda Hopkins, chair of the county supervisors, said in the county’s statement. “He has a collaborative leadership style that will only enhance relationships among the county’s justice partners, and we’re happy to have him.”

District Attorney Jill Ravitch echoed those sentiments.

“The District Attorney’s Office has always worked well with the Public Defender’s Office,” she said. “I hope that working relationship will continue to be a productive one. And I look forward to meeting and working with Mr. Morris.”

Born and raised in Westfield, New Jersey, Morris graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in philosophy and earned his law degree from the University of San Francisco.

He moved to California in 1991.

“Just in time to get everything I owned burned in the Oakland Hills fire,” he said.

After law school, he worked for a few years in a civil law firm specializing in environmental law, then began working as a public defender in Mendocino County. After a brief stint in Sonoma County in 2000-2001, he was hired in Marin County.

Morris graduated from the Dominican University Leadership Academy in 2012 and has spent the past several years supervising trial attorneys in both misdemeanor and felony practice.

He serves on the California Public Defender’s Legislative Committee, the Marin County Juvenile Justice Realignment Committee, the Marin County Criminal Justice Behavioral Health Team, the Marin County Equity CORE Team and is a member of the Marin County Bar Association.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or On Twitter @loriacarter.

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