Corbin Brewster, an attorney at Tulsa law firm Brewster & DeAngelis, has been selected to replace Rob Nigh as chief Tulsa County public defender, The Frontier has learned.
Several sources confirmed Brewster’s appointment for The Frontier, but requested anonymity because it had not yet been made public.
Public defenders are appointed by the court to represent people charged with crimes who cannot afford an attorney.
Nigh, 57, stepped down from the position in July citing ongoing health problems. Stuart Southerland served as interim chief public defender following Nigh’s departure. Southerland was nominated by Presiding District Judge Rebecca Nightingale.
Brewster, 35, is the son of Clark Brewster, a longtime private defense attorney and one of the most notable attorneys in Tulsa. Clark Brewster, along with Corbin, represented former Tulsa County Reserve Deputy Robert Bates in Bates’ manslaughter trial for the on-duty shooting of an unarmed black man in 2015.
Neither Corbin nor Clark Brewster responded to requests for comment on Thursday.
Nigh was a longtime associate of Clark Brewster, and has worked at the Brewster & DeAngelis law firm since stepping down as public defender.
The Brewster & DeAngelis law firm has represented the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office in a number of civil trials that have alleged civil rights violations in the Tulsa Jail and by deputies. Earlier this year, Clark and Corbin Brewster represented TCSO in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Elliott Williams, a mentally ill inmate who became paralyzed in the jail and was allowed to starve to death over the course of several days.
The Sheriff’s Office lost that case and was ordered to pay Williams’ family $10 million. The Sheriff’s Office is appealing the verdict.
Brewster may be seen as a surprising choice for chief public defender given his age and limited history of handling criminal cases. Online court records show him as the attorney of record in only 10 felony cases in Tulsa County since 2010. He has handled cases in other counties during that time frame.
As chief public defender, Brewster will be tasked with managing a staff of about 40 attorneys and other employees who face a mounting caseload and a shrinking budget. In an interview with The Frontier, Nigh said that the American Bar Association recommends that public defenders handle no more than 150 cases a year. Yet in the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office, attorneys are handling more than 300 cases a year, Nigh said.
The office’s annual budget hovers around $4 million, an amount that must cover payroll and other expenses associated with handling more than 4,000 felony cases a year, as well as misdemeanor and juvenile cases.