Phyllis Aluko Confirmed as 11th Chief Shelby County Public Defender

On Monday, March 25th, the Shelby County Commission made history when it unanimously approved Phyllis Aluko as the first female Chief Public Defender of Shelby County.

Phyllis Aluko, Chief Shelby County Public Defender

Phyllis Aluko will lead one of the largest and oldest public defender systems in the country. The Shelby County Public Defender’s Office was established in 1917, then only the third public defense system in the country. It predates by nearly 50 years the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright decision, which established public defense systems across the country. The office of more than 90 attorneys and 30 support staff represent 25,000 adults and children each year.

At her confirmation hearing, Aluko acknowledged those who have paved the way for female leadership in public defense, namely Clara Shortridge Foltz, who wrote a model bill in the 1890s for the adoption of a public defense system in California. The Foltz plan was adopted in 1913 in California, making the Los Angeles office the first public defense system in the United States.

“Foltz believed the law should be a shield, as well as a sword. That there should be a defender for every prosecutor,” said Chief Phyllis Aluko. “What she described in her model bill was client-centered defense. If confirmed, I would continue to promote client centered representation for every client, for every case.”

Aluko began with the office as a volunteer and has been with the Shelby County Public Defenders for more than 25 years. She served in the Trial Division for 10 years and moved up to Division Leader. Aluko later transferred to the Appellate Division and would become the first woman and the first African-American to serve as supervisor of the Appellate Division.

She is a graduate of Whitehaven High School in Memphis, received her bachelor of arts from the University of Pennsylvania and her J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Aluko is on the board of directors of the Memphis Bar Association and is also a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Ben F. Jones Chapter of the National Bar Association.

Aluko was nominated by Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. She takes the helm after the former Chief Public Defender Stephen Bush retired in February, after more than eight years in office.

“My goal is to put into place individuals who are mission driven,” said Mayor Lee Harris. ” I’m looking to put into place people who want to serve this community. Ms. Aluko is such an individual.”

After her nomination was unanimously approved by the Shelby County Commission, Aluko received a standing ovation. A number of her colleagues from the office were present at the vote to show their support for this historic nomination.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.



Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush Retires

“It has been the honor of my life to serve the people of Shelby County and work beside the fine lawyers, investigators, social workers and legal professionals of this law firm. I am grateful that Mayor Harris has made this such a deliberative process and look forward to a new era of leadership at the Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender,” – Stephen Bush, Shelby County Public Defender.



This afternoon, Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush addressed this law firm for the last time as the Shelby County Public Defender. His retirement date became official today. Bush said he was moved by the standing ovation given to him by the office that has been such a huge part of his life for 27 years.

Bush was appointed the Chief Public Defender in 2010. He previously served as an Assistant Shelby County Public Defender. Bush announced his plans to retire in July and offered to serve through the search process.


“The role of Chief Public Defender is critical in our community, and I’m thankful that Mr. Bush allowed this administration the time to conduct a careful search,” said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris in a written statement.


Shelby County Government published this media release to announce Bush’s retirement date. The Harris Administration also stated that a nominee has been selected and the name will be forthcoming. You can read the media release here.


You can also read more about Bush’s service as the Chief Public Defender here:

Shelby County Chief Public Defender Stephen Bush will step down via The Commercial Appeal

Editorial | Stephen Bush’s innovative, steadfast public defense via The Commercial Appeal









Tennessee Driver’s Licenses Revoked Due to Unpaid Fines, Fees Can Now Be Reinstated

A federal judge ruled in October that the State of Tennessee can no longer revoke driver’s licenses due to non-payment of traffic fines. This builds on a ruling from July 2017 that ordered the state to stop suspending driver’s licenses due to unpaid court costs. Both orders also call for the reinstatement of driver’s licenses that have been revoked because of unpaid traffic fines and court costs. Neither automatically reinstate revoked licenses, instead, people must apply for it.

The injunctions are in response to class action lawsuits filed by Just City of Memphis, the law firm Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, Civil Rights Corp and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. The State of Tennessee is currently appealing the July order on court costs, but is still complying with the preliminary injunction to stop revocation and to reinstate licenses revoked because of unpaid court debt. Additionally, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office announced in October that it has stopped prosecuting cases involving drivers whose licenses are revoked for owing fines.



There are several ways to determine if you are eligible*

  • Call 866-903-7357. This number is for a state reinstatement center. It’s their job to help you determine if you’re eligible to have your driver’s license reinstated, and if you are, help you get it back. Someone should answer calls to that number Monday through Friday between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. CST. The number will be busy, so keep calling if you can’t get through to someone immediately.
  • Visit this website: You’ll need to fill out a short form, so have your Social Security number and driver’s license number (if you know it) handy. The website will help you determine if you’re eligible for reinstatement.
  • Go to an in-person reinstatement center. A full list is available online at the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security’s website.

*Information provided by The Tennessean



Tennessee can’t revoke driver licenses of people who can’t pay traffic fines, judge says via The Tennessean

Shelby County DA’s office stops prosecuting many cases of driving with a revoked license via The Commercial Appeal

Judge: Tennessee can’t revoke driver’s licenses from people who can’t pay court costs via The Tennessean

Being Poor Can Mean Losing a Driver’s License. Not Anymore in Tennessee via The New York Times