As Public Defender Frank Ospino gets ready to become a judge, his second-in-command was chosen this week to temporarily take the reigns.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday during closed session, Orange County supervisors appointed Sharon Petrosino as interim public defender, effective 5 p.m. on Dec. 30, the day Ospino leaves office.

“I want to congratulate Ms. Petrosino. I’ve known her for two decades in amy career as a prosecutor. She will be an outstanding interim public defender, and we are all looking forward to working with her,” said supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer after announcing the appointment.

Ospino also had kind words for Petrosino.

“Needless to say, it is a tough job and these are challenging times in the criminal justice system of Orange County,” Ospino said in a statement. “I have known Sharon for over 30 years and have the utmost respect for her experience and accomplishments. I know that her experience will enable her to cohesively manage this great institution during this period of transition.” 

“I hope she finds this job as exciting and rewarding as I have.”

Petrosino serves as chief deputy at the Public Defender’s Office, where she’s worked as an attorney for 30 years. She’s represented poor clients in a variety of criminal cases, including homicides, death penalty cases, and appeals.

The public defender’s office, which serves criminal defendants who can’t afford their own attorney, has about 400 employees and a budget of $72 million.

The county’s public defender’s office made national news this year as Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders has brought to light widespread misconduct by local prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies in their handling of an informants network inside county jails.

The scandal involves misuse of informants to gain incriminating statements, withholding of evidence from defendants, and alleged perjury by law enforcement.

Ospino, who served as the public defender chief since 2012, was appointed last month by Gov. Jerry Brown to fill the seat of Orange County Superior Court Judge Luis A. Rodriguez, who retired.

Going forward, supervisors plan on finding a permanent replacement for Ospino.

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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