Gilleo is Mohave County’s legal defender
KINGMAN – Ronald Gilleo is Mohave County’s Legal Defender. He deals more directly with the public than most county departments, certainly on a more personal basis through difficult times.
He and his staff of seven attorneys and four support staff, handle and represent indigent people who are charged with misdemeanors outside city limits, all felonies (all types), juvenile delinquencies and mental health title 36.
“I manage the office, but also handle and process some of the more serious cases that come through system and carry a full case load,” Gilleo said.
Gilleo started with Mohave County in August 1996 as deputy county attorney prosecuting juvenile delinquencies and drug cases with the Mohave Area General Narcotics Enforcement team (MAGNET) from 1998 to 2000, then served as legal defender starting in 2000. That is 23 years and amazing since the average employment of past legal defenders was about 18 months. It’s obviously something he enjoys because of the duration and the stress the position is known to have.
He’s also one of the original founding members of the Arizona Public Defender’s Association, which was organized over 20 years ago. He may be the last of the original members still working in that profession.
Gilleo was born and raised in Mesa, received a bachelor’s degree in justice studies from Arizona State University in May, 1991 and got his law degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1995.
He was awarded the Kingman Elks public service award in 2000 and last year won the Frank Gordon X Award from the Mohave County Bar Association
The caseload for the Legal Defender’s Office is substantial.
In fiscal year 2021-22, which ends June 30, the office had 1,434 cases. Of those, there were 966 felonies, 271 misdemeanors, 74 were juvenile cases, 94 were probation violations and 22 were mental health cases.
Since that time, there have been 676 more cases overall and 463 more felonies than the previous year. Gilleo praises his staff profusely for properly handling that significant increase. Yes, murder cases are part of the workload, too.
Gilleo says “our job is not to get people off. We seek justice for the client. We make sure things were done correctly, the proper method was accomplished, and it was done legally.”
He adds: “It’s not whether you win or lose.” Has justice been served is the question? That does not mean negotiations don’t occur. They do.
The Legal Defender’s office talks to the opposing attorneys to try to secure a deal. It’s up to the defendant, however. Many want their day in court, instead of some deal hammered out, even if they may be unlikely to win. “I’ve had my fair share of acquittals, too.” Gilleo said.
The annual office budget last year was $1,236,385. Other than salary increases, the legal defender’s office has never increased or gone over its budget.
Gilleo says “I just enjoy it. There has to be stability at the top. I’ll stay here until I retire.”
Gilleo and his wife, Marie, raised their family in Kingman and Mohave County. They have four adult children and seven grandchildren.
“I enjoy spending time with my family, traveling with my wife, and we thoroughly enjoy cruises to Mexico. We just like to travel.”
Gilleo has been a longtime fan of both the Phoenix Suns and the Golden State Warriors. He points out that “I like basketball when it’s played the right way, where everybody’s touching the ball and they’re passing the ball. That’s why I like the Warriors.”
He also grew up as a big supporter of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys before settling down as a huge Cardinals aficionado when it arrived in Arizona.
Does it take a certain type of lawyer personality to be a legal defender? Yes.
Gilleo believes “you need to be able to talk to people. Communication is key. You have to be a good listener. You have to develop a rapport with the people,” he said. “I would never be strictly an administrator. I need to do cases.”
(This is one of a series of profiles of Mohave County employees by the county communications office.)
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