County Executive Officer Nancy Watt has announced that Ron Abernethy, chief deputy public defender, is her choice for the office of Public Defender, replacing longtime PD Terry Davis, who retired last year. Watt will ask the Board of Supervisors to confirm Abernethy’s appointment at their regular meeting on May 14.
“Ron brings a focused consistency to the ongoing mission of the Public Defender’s office, and also has been a key player in our efforts to implement California’s criminal justice realignment and keep people from reoffending and returning to jail,” Watt said. “I believe he is the right person to lead the department forward.”
The Public Defender provides legal representation for adults and juveniles who are charged with criminal offenses and are unable to hire private counsel. Since the department’s inception in 1987, the office has provided criminal defense services for more than 75,000 defendants. Abernethy will oversee a staff of 23 and a $3.9 million annual budget.
“The Napa County Public Defender’s office is one of the best in the State,” Abernethy said, “staffed by people who are dedicated to defending the rights of the indigent. I look forward to continuing to improve on the quality service we offer.”
Abernethy joined the Public Defender’s office in 1997, where he has been deeply involved in budget preparation, hiring and discipline issues.
Before joining Napa County, he spent seven years in private practice at the firm of Harris, Perisho and Woodson in Stockton. He also spent 15 years in the San Joaquin County Public Defender’s Office, where he started his criminal defense career as a deputy public defender and rose to Assistant Public Defender.
Abernethy has tried more than 100 cases and has represented defendants in 30 homicide cases, some with special circumstances. He has appeared in several Superior Courts and in US District Courts, as well as argued cases in the State Court of Appeal.
In addition to practicing criminal defense, Abernethy is also a teacher of management theory and criminology, having taught in both public agencies and the University of the Pacific. He is also frequently called upon to share his expertise through various committee or task force assignments. He serves on the County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, which includes representatives across the criminal justice spectrum and is tasked with, among other things, implementing Napa County’s response to State realignment.
Abernethy has been and continues to be active in criminal justice groups, commissions and bar associations, including the Napa County Bar Association, California Public Defenders Association, State Bar of California, American Bar Association and more.
Abernethy has a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Sacramento State College and earned his juris doctorate from University of California Hastings College of the Law.