County of Ventura
The five-member board voted unanimously during a closed session at Tuesday’s supervisors' meeting and accepted County Executive Officer Mike Powers' recommendation to hire Howeth for the top post. The decision was later announced during the public portion of the meeting, said county spokesman Bill Nash.
Howeth, 59, said he is honored to have been chosen for the position and he looks forward to leading the "hardworking men and women" of the Ventura County Public Defender's Office.
"They work so hard day in and day out and try to make sure everyone gets a fair shake," Howeth said in a phone interview. "What's amazing is they labor to make sure that the quality of justice in Ventura County never depends on the amount of money someone has in their pocket."
Howeth joined the Ventura County Public Defender's Office in 1990 and became an at-will chief deputy public defender in 2008. He was named assistant public defender in 2012 and oversaw the office's felony trial team, which handles homicides and capital cases.
Before that, Howeth litigated more than 100 criminal cases, including capital murder trials.
Howeth graduated with a bachelor's degree in philosophy from UCLA and earned his law degree from the University of Santa Clara in 1983. The Huntington Beach native then took a position with the Orange County Public Defender's Office.
After working about four years as a litigator, Howeth, then 28, quit his job to travel the world and lived among the locals in places such as Kashmir, Tibet and Tanzania.
Howeth said that trip not only changed his world view but also taught him valuable lessons in empathy, compassion and community.
"You get to see so many different cultures, and what I really learned is the one thing that really drives me is standing in someone else's shoes and looking at things from a broader perspective," Howeth said. "I can't tell you how many times I was invited into other people's homes, and I was given charity and friendship from people who literally had nothing. They didn't have money, but they offered their friendship ... and I just never forgot that."
After a year of traveling the world, Howeth went back to the Orange County Public Defender's Office for about two more years before taking a job with the Ventura County Public Defender's Office in 1990.
Howeth is certified by the state as a legal specialist in criminal law. He also holds a master’s degree in leadership and public administration from CSU Northridge.
Howeth said he is excited to take over the leadership position at a time when California is reforming the criminal justice system through legislation such as realignment, which addresses prison crowding and recidivism; and initiatives such as Propositions 47 and 57.
Proposition 47, passed by voters in 2014, reduced certain drug possession felonies to misdemeanors. Proposition 57, which was passed by voters in November, allows credits for good behavior and for educational milestones that nonviolent inmates accomplish.
Howeth said one of the legislative issues he will continue to support is an overhaul of the state's bail system, which he said has been historically unfair to indigent and minority defendants.
"Part of my job will be to work with other talented people in the community and other justice partners to try to work towards solutions to problems other than just simply incarcerating folks or placing them under supervision," Howeth said. "We should instead look for jail alternatives that are going to help people get back to work and to their families."
Howeth has been married for 18 years to his wife, Marty Wolter. The Ventura couple have three children: Sarah, Jacob and India.
“Todd is the right choice to continue the innovative and forward-thinking work the Public Defender’s Office is doing," Powers said in a news release. "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.”
Howeth will oversee more than 50 attorneys who are supported by investigators, paralegals and staff.
Lipson said his former colleague is an intelligent individual and a veteran defense attorney who has a deep understanding of the complexities of the criminal justice system.
"Todd is an excellent lawyer and a creative free-thinker who will tackle the issues the county has with boundless energy and passion," Lipson said.
After a nationwide recruitment effort, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday announced that Todd Howeth has been chosen as the county's new chief public defender.
Howeth, the county's assistant public defender, will take over the position left vacant after Public Defender Steve Lipson retired June 16. Lipson, who had worked in the office for 31 years, had held the position since 2010.
Todd Howeth to lead Ventura County Public Defender's Office
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