Elizabeth Diaz has been named Fresno County's new public defender after serving as the interim the past six months.
Her appointment requires confirmation by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, which will next meet on July 15.
She started the new position Monday, according to an email from County Administrative Officer John Navarrette sent to supervisors and top county officials.
Diaz replaces Kenneth Taniguchi, who had been public defender for six years when he retired. He worked for 31 years as a defense lawyer.
Taniguchi left the public defender's post as lawyers in his office said he was making little effort to promote or hire lawyers or improve deteriorating morale.
National legal experts said last year that Fresno County's public defenders were carrying some of the largest caseloads they had ever seen.
Two weeks ago, county supervisors approved adding 17 new staffers in the public defender's office beginning in October, including seven lawyers and four investigators.
"The consensus in the office is that they are thrilled to see Liz appointed," said Scott Baly, president of the Professional Association of County Employees, which represents Fresno County's public defenders. "She has been around through these tough times and has been in the office a long time. We're happy one of our own was picked."
Supervisor Henry R. Perea said he think Diaz's appointment will help speed up the justice system in Fresno County, which has been saddled by delays because of too few lawyers and overwhelming caseloads.
"She will bring the type of change necessary, working with other justice partners, to streamline the process," he said.
Diaz began her career in Fresno County public defender's office 24 years ago. She elevated through the ranks to represent defendants in homicide cases, led the juvenile offenses team, and served as trainer and mentor for lawyers on the office's felony team until her promotion in 2005 to chief defense attorney.
Diaz was appointed assistant public defender in 2007 to manage the day-to-day operations while carrying an active caseload.
Fresno County's maximum annual salary for its public defender is $155,168.
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