MOORLACH UPDATE — Carl C. Holmes — February 11, 2014

It is with sadness that this UPDATE provides news on the loss of former Orange County Public Defender Carl Holmes. Carl served as the Public Defender, overseeing this department with about 200 deputy public defenders, from 1997 to January 2003. He succeeded Ronald Y. Butler, who served in the position from 1981 to 1997. Carl was succeeded by Deborah Kwast, who served in the position until 2011. I was the Treasurer-Tax Collector for the County from 1995 until 2006, so my tenure overlapped with these three fine individuals. Carl was affable, cheerful, professional, and he wore a great beard. He was also quite accomplished. Here is a photo of when he was recognized by his statewide peers in 1999:

CPDA President Diane Bellas of the Alameda County Public Defenders Office and Ken Clayman of the Ventura County Public Defenders Office present the Public Defender of the Year Award to Orange County Public Defender Carl Holmes.

In 2011 I had the privilege of joining my Supervisorial colleagues in appointing Frank Ospino to the position of Orange County Public Defender. Our County has been well served by these four outstanding Public Defenders over the last 33 years (more than one-quarter of the Countys history). Please keep the Carl Holmes family in your thoughts and prayers at this time of loss.

Carl C. Holmes, 72; longtime public defender

Long-time Orange County public defender Carl C. Holmes has died at 72 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

COURTESY OF THE HOLMES FAMILY

SCOTT SCHWEBKE

STAFF WRITER

Longtime Orange County Public Defender Carl C. Holmes, known for passionately representing the poor and downtrodden, has died at age 72.

Holmes died Friday at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach from complications related to Alzheimers disease, said his wife, Eleanor Stegmeier Holmes, who also is a lawyer.

The Huntington Beach resident worked for the public defenders office for 32 years. The office represents criminal defendants who cannot afford private attorneys.

Holmes was well-known in legal circles for his skill in defending the indigent and oppressed, according to colleagues and friends.

Carl developed quite a reputation for being a voice for those who had no voice, his wife said.

Holmes was described as Orange Countys Atticus Finch, after the fictional defense attorney in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, because of his willingness to defend the underdog, she added.

However, Holmes was much more than an exceptional lawyer, said longtime friend Paul S. Meyer, a Costa Mesa criminal defense attorney.

He was an artist with the fly rod and a self-deprecating but actually pretty good golfer. He loved baseball and played for the University of California, Berkeley, Meyer said. He adored travel with Eleanor and friends, and enjoyed his excursions to Europe, the Middle East, Yellowstone and elsewhere throughout the U.S.

We often hear about a moral compass, and the importance of getting things right. Carl was a living example of that struggle and passion.

Holmes was born Aug. 7, 1941, in Dixon, Ill. He earned a B.A. in psychology from UC Berkeley in 1963.

Holmes then attended the Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, graduating in 1968. After four years in private practice, he joined the public defenders office in 1972. He retired in 2003.

Jennifer L. Keller, an Irvine lawyer, said she spent the first five years of her legal career in the public defenders office working with Holmes.

He was a wonderful guy, she said. He was a very humane, kind, compassionate person. He didnt judge our clients harshly no matter what they were accused of. He taught all of us that our job was not to judge them either and be in their corner no matter what.

Gary M. Pohlson, a lawyer in Laguna Hills, has known Holmes for 35 years.

He was a class act, Pohlson said. He was a really smart guy, organized guy and caring guy. He was just a gentleman.

Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for the Orange County District Attorneys Office, said she has fond memories of Holmes.

Carl was a very fine attorney, but more importantly, a fine and caring person, Schroeder said. As an attorney, he was always honest and forthright as well as intelligent and effective. Ive always been impressed at how well he served his clients without compromising his ethics. He was a very good public defender, because he cared about the people he served. He was a good friend, too. I will miss him.

Added Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach: He was fun. He had good loyalty. As a fellow department head, I enjoyed working with him.

Holmes handled nearly every kind of assignment in the public defenders office. He served as the manager of the central, north and west judicial districts as well as assistant public defender of all municipal courts in Orange County.

In 1997, Holmes became the countys public defender, the offices top post.

When Orange County declared bankruptcy in 1994, Holmes devised a plan that saved the county about $6.1 million per year without compromising the quality of legal representation to the indigent of Orange County, according to a statement from the public defenders office.

Holmes received the Orange County Human Relations Award in 1999 in recognition of his participation in several community and professional organizations.

Also in 1999, Holmes received the California Public Defender of the Year Award, given to those who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and legal abilities.

In addition to his wife, Holmes is survived by two sons and a daughter. A memorial service will be held Feb. 21 in Costa Mesa.

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