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San Diego County Public Defender retiring, according to email

An undated photo of the exterior of the San Diego County Office of the Public Defender's office. Inset: an undated photo of San Diego County Public Defender Randy Mize.
Matthew Bowler / inset courtesy of San Diego County Office of the Public Defender's office
An undated photo of the exterior of the San Diego County Office of the Public Defender's office. Inset: an undated photo of San Diego County Public Defender Randy Mize.

Beleaguered San Diego County Public Defender Randy Mize announced his retirement to his staff in a Monday email obtained by KPBS.

Mize’s apparent decision comes after the county paid out millions of dollars earlier this year to resolve two wrongful termination lawsuits that alleged discrimination and retaliation. Beyond the lawsuits, an outside law firm is currently investigating additional allegations that several of his managers engaged in discrimination and retaliation.

Mize did not respond to a request for comment and county spokesperson Mike Workman said Monday he was not aware of Mize’s retirement plans. KPBS received a copy of the email from two separate sources close to the public defender’s office, and confirmed with two others that the email had been sent.


In January, a San Diego Superior Court jury awarded $2.6 million to Zack Davina, a former deputy public defender. The jury found that the county failed to prevent discrimination and retaliation against Davina, who is gay. The county did not appeal the verdict and raised the jury award to almost $3 million to cover his legal costs.

In that case, Mize admitted under oath that he signed a human resources investigative report knowing it contained false statements by his own managers.

In February, the county paid $900,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Michelle Reynoso, a former deputy public defender who alleged that office supervisors discriminated and retaliated against her because of her involvement in Black Lives Matter on her personal time.

Mize did not give a specific retirement date in his email, only saying it will happen in mid-June. He wrote that he had thought about retiring in 2020, but stayed on due to the pandemic.

“It never feels like the right time to exit, but now feels damn close,” Mize wrote. “After a nearly 35-year wild ride in the finest public defender organization in the nation, I have decided to retire.”


Chris Ludmer, the lawyer who represented both Davina and Reynoso, said he was gratified by news of Mize’s retirement.

“We continue to hope that the county will appoint a new public defender from outside of that office,” Ludmer said. “Someone who was not involved in the unlawful termination of Zach Davina and Michelle Reynoso, and who can bring that office back to truly serving its clients, to respecting the employment laws and to making it a safe, healthy and productive place to work.”

Davina alleged in his lawsuit that his supervisors scolded him for criticizing the office for mostly failing to embrace him and other LGBTQ people. Shortly afterward, demeaning talk of his pierced ears, nail polish and hair started circulating in the office, the lawsuit alleged.

Reynoso and Davina also said their troubles only intensified when they, and several of their colleagues, suggested supervisor Sherry Stone be demoted and enroll in diversity training after she used the word "lynch" while chastising Andrew Bollinger, a deputy public defender who is Black and Latino.

Court records show Stone was alerted to the complaints and then sat on a tenure review panel for Davina and Reynoso.

In February, the county hired San Diego law firm Meyers Nave to investigate complaints of discrimination, retaliation and unprofessional conduct within the public defender’s office.

Bollinger, who left the office earlier this year, told KPBS Tuesday he had no comment about Mize’s retirement. But he did express hope for the office’s future.

“I hope the county takes this opportunity to do a real search for a successor who can put the public defender’s office on the right path,” he said.

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