Phyllis Aluko

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris this week announced his choice of Phyllis Aluko to serve as the next chief public defender.

If approved by the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, Aluko would become the first African-American female to serve in the role.

“The Law Office of the Shelby County Public Defender has a long legacy of standing up for vulnerable residents in Memphis and Shelby County,” said Paul Morris, who chaired the search committee. “I worked with the Mayor to identify someone who is ethical, hard-working, and respected by their peers and community. Ms. Aluko is dedicated to Shelby County and will be an exceptional leader of the Public Defender’s Office.”

Aluko started as a volunteer in the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office before working in the trial division for 10 years. She progressed to serve as a Division Leader in the trial division. Later, she transferred to the appellate division and became the first woman and first African-American to serve as a Supervisor of the appellate team.

“For over 25 years, I have dedicated my career to protecting the rights of indigent people who have been charged with committing a criminal offense,” said Aluko. “I care about improving our indigent defense system and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve residents of Shelby County as the new Public Defender.”

Aluko graduated from Whitehaven High School before earning her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her Juris Doctor from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1992.

She is on the board of directors for the Memphis Bar Foundation, which is the charitable arm of the Memphis Bar Association. She is also a member the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Ben F. Jones Chapter of the National Bar Association, where she earned the President’s Award in 2008 and 2016.

Aluko is a 2016 graduate of the Leadership Memphis FastTrack program.

The Law Office of the Shelby County Public Defender is the third oldest public defender system in the country. The office represents more than 25,000 adults and children each year at every level of the justice system, from general sessions court to the United States Supreme Court.