Is there life after the Sonoma County Public Defender’s Office?

Joe Bisbiglia is about to find out. After 10 years of providing legal defense for the county’s poor, his last day on the job is Friday.

Like several other lawyers who recently left the office mid-career, Bisbiglia is going into private practice, hanging a shingle in downtown Santa Rosa.

One might ask why anyone would leave the security of a government job that paid $155,000 a year and offers excellent benefits. Is being self-employed really more lucrative?

It could be that Bisbiglia wants to position himself in the market as a crop of well-known baby boom lawyers get closer to retirement.

Or he might want to expand his repertoire into civil law and chase big bucks as a personal injury attorney.

Either way, he’s going to be buying his own copy machine paper from now on. And saving for his own retirement.

 “It’s a calculated risk,” said Bisbiglia, 45, who has handled everything from misdemeanors to murder cases during his tenure. “There are risks involved in anything worthwhile.”

Bisbiglia joins a select group of lawyers to leave the Public Defender’s Office in the past few years. Amy Chapman, Joe Rogoway and, more recently, Rachel Wilber have all departed before retirement age to set up private practices.

Rogoway, in particular, has carved a niche defending accused pot dealers. Chapman recently took a Sonoma Valley child-sex case to trial. Wilber is expected to follow suit while pursuing a side interest in yoga instruction.

They’re competing for clients with a large private defense bar spanning the North Coast. Whether it’s paid off is unclear.

But Bisbiglia’s soon-to-be-ex-boss, Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi, wants to make one thing clear – she’s not driving him away. It’s just the opposite. She’s tried to talk him out of it.

Pozzi said for every lawyer who leaves there are dozens ready to grab their cubicles. About 60 people applied for the opening created by Wilber’s departure.

“Everybody wants to come to Sonoma County,” Pozzi said.

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