Tamara Mulembo (‘05) is First Black Chief Deputy in History of Pima County Attorney’s Office

Feb. 9, 2021

"By creating diversity, we make a better justice system," says Arizona Law alumna

Tamara Mulembo

Photo by Colin Wolff

University of Arizona Law alumna Tamara Mulembo (‘05) has been appointed chief deputy of the Pima County Attorney's Office. She is the first Black person to hold that position in the 109-year history of the office.

“I have an opportunity to represent and amplify voices that weren’t at the table before, and that’s important because this office cannot be a monolith in how we’re thinking,” Mulembo says of her appointment. “I think that my being here is the first step toward seeing meaningful change for so many people in our community, particularly Black people. But my presence here alone isn’t enough. We will demonstrate through our actions we’re not being performative or just paying lip service to our values.

“The table itself is more diverse, the voices are richer, and by creating that diversity, we make a better justice system, safer communities, and we improve the world around us,” Mulembo says.

Mulembo, half Kenyan and a self-proclaimed “desert rat, through and through,” was born and raised in Phoenix before coming south to Tucson to get degrees in both English and Spanish and, later, her law degree 

She says her time at Arizona Law was marked by mentorship of many kinds.

Everyone during their professional journey will need three types of mentors: the person who moves your career forward; the person who teaches you how to do your job; and the person who is your sounding board and confidante," Mulembo says. "My time at Arizona Law provided me with mentors in each of these areas. My professors guided me and counseled me throughout my career. Dr. Willie Jordan-Curtis has given me invaluable support and mentoring over the years, as well as the opportunity to reach back and help those who come after me. My study group became more than colleagues, but also lifelong friends. 

For most of her career, Mulembo worked as a public defender at the local and federal levels and once served as president of the Arizona Minority Bar Association. 

“My grandmother, Lorenza Mae Shankle, was from Alabama," Mulembo says. "She died when she was 91, and she lived to see a lot. She was always pushing me, and I think she believed in me the most.” 

In December, Pima County Attorney and fellow Arizona Law alumna Laura Conover (‘05) announced Mulembo’s appointment to be chief deputy. 

"Having Tamara as my right hand in the office and a true partner to work on reform with has been indispensable,” says Conover. "She was the ultimate catch for the position. She has civil and criminal law background, she has prosecuted and defended, she has high-level D.C. training from the Administrative Office of Courts on how to lead a large legal office, and she's a bilingual Arizonan. Also, she's a Wildcat, of course. Tamara shares my desire to bring humor and joy into the most difficult places where very serious work is being done in service to the community, and during a pandemic no less. She has a unique ability to inspire people to keep pushing forward and to do so with grace. Our team is so lucky to have her at the helm." 

Mulembo’s advice for Arizona Law students who want to follow in her footsteps:

"First, when you show diligence and faithfulness in doing the small things well, more will be entrusted to you. Second, have the courage to present your authentic self to the world. You are at your most powerful and most effective when you stand in your truth.”  

Portions of this story originally published on Pima County Attorney’s Office Facebook page.