2017-07-14 / Community

New lead defender takes office

Howeth has been with county for 27 years
By Josue Aguilar
Special to the Acorn

Todd Howeth Todd Howeth A nationwide search for Ventura County’s lead public defender ended where it started—with a familiar face in the county court.

Todd Howeth, an assistant public defender for Ventura County since 2012, was appointed chief public defender after a unanimous vote by the Board of Supervisors on June 20.

A defense attorney in the county for 27 years, Howeth replaces Steve Lipson, who retired last month.

“Todd is the right choice to continue the innovative and forward-thinking work the public defender’s office is doing,” County Executive Officer Mike Powers said. “They look for the root causes of issues and then work to turn lives around. Todd has a passion for criminal defense and for the rights of the people his office serves.”

As the chief public defender, Howeth, 59, will oversee 107 employees and 58 lawyers. His office is responsible for defending county residents—both minors and adults—in felony and misdemeanor cases, as well as those in probate matters such as wills.

He said about 80 percent of people charged with a crime in Ventura County are represented by an attorney in his office.

Howeth said public defenders must take into consideration a variety of factors when representing a client—if, for example the accused is dealing with substance abuse or mental health issues. In those instances, defense attorneys connect clients with programs and services to help them deal with those problems instead of simply letting them rotate in and out of jail.

The goal, he said, is to help clients address the underlying issues that led to their legal problems in the first place. It’s about treating clients with respect and dignity, he added.

“For example, folks that come in with felony and misdemeanors, we can help (them) clean up their records (and) expunge their convictions so that they can get back to work, get back to their jobs and get back to their families,” Howeth said. “There’s a lot to be responsible for, so ultimately the public defender is charged with coming up with a vision for the future and how to manage all these kinds of various services to the residents of our community.”

The Huntington Beach native said he became interested in public defense in high school. It started with a $500 Volkswagen Bug he wanted but couldn’t afford.

He convinced his parents to buy the car by telling them he needed it for an independent study program that required him to get to and from the local courthouse so he could watch defense attorneys in action. His parents liked the idea, so they bought the car. It was a good investment, as Howeth’s early days spent in court led to a lifelong career.

“I went and saw a public defender, and I saw them doing their work and I was just fascinated,” he said. “ Ever since high school I wanted to be a public defender.”

He graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and earned his law degree from the University of Santa Clara in 1983.

Howeth has been married 18 years to his wife, Marty, who worked as a public defender for over 20 years. They met on the job. The couple has three children: Sarah, 29; Jacob, 27; and India, 16.

The new chief public defender began his duties July 2 with an annual salary of $254,327.

“Todd will continue to ensure the high quality of the legal representation the office provides and the strong leadership that has made the office so successful,” Powers said.

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