The Shelby County Public Defender’s Office was established in 1917.
We are the third oldest public defender system in the country, and we take pride in our legacy of protecting the rights of those who cannot afford a lawyer. Since 2010, we have been undergoing an organizational and cultural shift that has marked a new era of indigent defense, one that takes advantage of the defender’s unique position to address the clients’ specific criminal charges and leverage this contact into an opportunity for both the individual and our city. We are working to become a client-centered, community-oriented defender office that serves the needs of Shelby County. This is the concept behind our motto: Justice for a New Generation.
About our Chief Public Defender. Attorney Phyllis Aluko is the 11th Chief Public Defender for Shelby County and directs the largest and oldest public defense system in Tennessee. On March 25th, 2018, the Shelby County Commission made history when it unanimously approved Aluko as the first female Chief Public Defender of Shelby County.
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.
About our office. The Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender provides high-quality, zealous, client-centered legal representation to indigent people in Shelby County, Tennessee. Established in 1917 as the first public defender east of the Mississippi, the Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender has a long legacy as a regional and national leader in standing up for equal justice. Today, we are a rapidly-growing law office, with more than 140 advocates – lawyers, investigators, administrators, and other professionals – committed to cutting-edge practices in representing more than 25,000 adults and children each year at every level of the justice system, from municipal court to the United States Supreme Court. We are proud to stand up for the vulnerable people of Shelby County – one of the nation’s most important cultural centers, with a deep history of struggle for racial and economic justice. Shelby County is Tennessee’s largest county and home to the state’s largest city, Memphis. With a population of almost a million people, it is one of the more racially and economically diverse metropolitan areas in the southeastern United States.
About our community. Shelby County, Tennessee is tucked into the far southwestern corner of the state. It is the largest of Tennessee’s 95 counties in both population and geographic area; it is also home to the state’s largest city, Memphis. Shelby County and seven counties in Western Tennessee, northern Mississippi and eastern Arkansas make up the Memphis Metropolitan Statistical Area, the 41st largest MSA in the country. With a population of approximately 1.3 million people, it is one of the more racially and economically diverse metropolitan areas in the southeastern United States.
The population of Shelby County is 52.3% African American and 43.6% white with small but growing Latino, Asian and other racial minority communities. This rich diversity is challenged by the city’s deep pockets of poverty — 20.1% of the population lives below the poverty line. Over the past decade, market forces and relocation programs have moved many poor residents into outlying areas away from the city center. Our clients, the majority of whom are poor, undereducated and living in at-risk neighborhoods, are increasingly spread out across the community to the extent that an estimated half of the neighborhoods in Memphis are now affected by poverty. This makes it more difficult for our clients to reach the services they need to move beyond the circumstances that may have brought them into contact with our office, and onto more productive lives.