Sharon Petrosino has retired after four years as the Orange County public defender, ending a career that started at the office in 1985.
The county Board of Supervisors appointed Martin Schwarz as interim public defender and has launched a search for a permanent leader.
The position oversees more than 180 defense lawyers representing people who cannot afford private attorneys.
Petrosino has been with the department for 35 years, joining the year after she passed the California bar exam. She went to Rutgers for her undergraduate studies and received her law degree from Southwestern School of Law.
Under Petrosino’s stewardship, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders unraveled the systematic use of jailhouse informants by prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies to coax confessions from inmates, a violation of the inmates’ right to an attorney. During the years-long battle over the informants, a judge recused the entire district attorney’s office from the case of a mass killer who gunned down eight victims and wounded another at a Seal Beach beauty salon in 2011.
The judge was so moved by the informant debacle that he gave the shooter, Scott Dekraai, multiple life terms in prison rather than the death penalty.
The battle over the informants won Petrosino the reputation as a fighter.