Las Vegas Sun

November 20, 2019

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Public defender steps down early

Clark County Public Defender Morgan Harris, whose division is the focus of an internal audit expected to be released any day, stepped down from his post Tuesday after 29 years of service.

Clark County Manager Thom Reilly confirmed Harris moved up his scheduled retirement date two weeks to Tuesday. Reilly appointed Deputy Public Defender Will Ewing to succeed Harris until he names a permanent replacement.

Harris was hired by the county in 1969 and was appointed public defender in 1972. Harris did not return a phone call this morning.

"He's been a dedicated employee," Reilly said of Harris. "He was conscientious about his work and the reputation of the public defender's office. The county will miss him."

Reilly has whittled a list of attorneys interested in the position, which pays between $97,834 and $151,642 per year, down to four.

The four finalists include federal Public Defender Franny Forsman and Deputy Public Defenders Marcus Cooper, Peter Christiansen and Ralph Baker. Reilly said he had hoped to find a permanent replacement before Harris stepped down.

Reilly now plans to interview the four finalists this week, and "I'm hoping if things go well I can make a decision by next week; that's my goal," he said.

The county manager said Harris' decision to step down early has nothing to do with an internal audit, which county administrators say is a routine one performed on each county division about every five years.

The internal audit of the Clark County public defender's office shows county-paid lawyers ran private errands while on the clock, according to county officials who asked not to be named. It also addresses a soda machine that had been illegally placed in a public area of the office for more than a decade, they said.

Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation officials cracked down on the public defender's office after discovering Harris owned the soda machine.

State law requires vending machine owners who do business in certain public buildings -- including Clark County facilities -- contract with the state Bureau of Services to the Blind and Visually Impaired.