Deputy District Attorney Lee Cunningham to be county assistant D.A.

Lee Cunningham shown during the trial of Kaylee Weisenberg in 2011.
Lee Cunningham shown during the trial of Kaylee Weisenberg in 2011. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Lee Cunningham brings a 30-year career in the courtroom and a history of prosecuting major cases to his new job as San Luis Obispo County assistant district attorney.

Cunningham, who will replace former district attorney candidate Tim Covello as the office’s second in command, said he looks forward to the new challenge.

“We have such a great group of staff, investigators and attorneys. It really is an enjoyable place to work,” Cunningham said.

Dan Dow, who defeated Covello in the race for the county’s top prosecutor last spring, officially announced Cunningham’s promotion Monday morning.

In an emailed statement, Dow wrote that Cunningham’s experience was a driving force in the selection.

“Our office is fortunate to possess a tremendous talent base of well-qualified and highly respected attorneys,” wrote Dow, who takes over as county district attorney on Nov. 6. “But as we implement changes to make our county a safer place to live, work, and raise a family, I’m confident that Lee’s background in both the legal and law enforcement fields, experience in the courtroom, and exemplary reputation make him the most qualified member of our office to serve in this capacity.”

After graduating from Minot State University with a social science degree in his home state of North Dakota, Cunningham began his career in 1971 as a correctional officer at the California Men’s Colony. Two years later, he became a police officer in San Luis Obispo. While working as a police officer, he enrolled in law school.

He worked as an attorney in private practice for six years until he joined the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office in 1985.

Cunningham has handled several major cases through the years.

He prosecuted Brandon Henslee, who was sentenced in 2013 to 27 years to life in prison for the murder of his half brother in Cambria; Kaylee Weisenberg, who was sentenced to 15 years to life in 2012 for causing the death of CHP officer Brett Oswald while driving under the influence of methamphetamine in Paso Robles; and Kelsey Morasci, who was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison in 2010 for murdering 21-year-old Everett Quaid in a love triangle case from Atascadero.

He is currently handling the trial of Garrett Taylor, a Cambria man who is accused of driving under the influence during an ATV accident that killed Justin Evans, 20.

Dow will take over for Gerry Shea Nov. 6.

Covello, who lost his bid to become the county’s district attorney, was the most recent assistant district attorney until he accepted a position with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office. Before Covello, Dan Hilford held the position for more than three decades before retiring at the end of 2012.