About the Department


Three years before the US Supreme Court’s indigent defense mandate in Gideon v. Wainwright, in 1960, County Board of Supervisors created the San Bernardino County Public Defender. The Public Defender was then directed to provide “legal counsel and defense services for persons accused of felonies at the Superior Court level who could not afford to employ private attorneys.” Edward P. Foley was appointed to be the County’s first Public Defender.

In 1961, Charles E. Ward replaced Mr. Foley as the County’s Public Defender. Mr. Ward held the office until 1983.

Mr. Ward’s 22 year administration oversaw the department’s expanded mandate to represent misdemeanor and juvenile defendants.

In 1969, the Public Defender moved from offices in the Central Courthouse to the present Central Division building on Mountain View.

In the mid-1970’s the department began using photocopiers, years before courts would accept any copies other than those made with carbon paper.

In 1983, David McKenna was appointed Public Defender. Mr. McKenna had extensive experience in County government already having been a deputy district attorney, a judge, and the County’s Third District Supervisor. During Mr. McKenna’s administration, the department continued to grow, further integrating modern technology and moving into new facilities. In 1984 the department launched a WANG mini-computer system to provide the office’s first word processing tools and a database used by the Public Defender’s Central and Fontana locations. Prior to this, hash-marks were used to keep track of office statistics by the fiscal year quarter and kept on large sheets kept in heavy binders.

In 1986 the Rancho Cucamonga Courthouse was completed and the Public Defender West End Division moved into offices inside the new courthouse. In 1995 the office upgraded to personal computers and a new database “Case in Point.”

In 2000 John Roth was appointed Public Defender. Mr. Roth’s 5 year administration implemented the department’s “FACTS” database as the department absorbed the County’s unprecedented growth, as well as enhanced post juvenile adjudication responsibilities.

In fiscal year 2006-2007, the department handled 55,000 cases throughout San Bernardino County. By July 2007, the department grew to 266 positions.

[Sources: San Bernardino County Bar Association, 1975 Directory, pages 84-85; Redlands Daily Facts (CA), December 17, 2006, Section: News, “County's first public defender dies at 89,” Author: DEBBIE PFEIFFER TRUNNELL, Staff Writer; Interview with Kay Skawienski, SBCPD historian extraordinaire; 2007-2008 San Bernardino County Budget.]