Mercury News: Public Defender Mary Greenwood in line for Santa Clara County judgeship

A County’s head of the Public Defender’s office may be the most important, yet least discussed decision-maker in a local criminal justice system. With Mary Greenwood potentially leaving to receive a judgeship, an important transition is going to be made by County Board of Supervisors for a position that will impact thousands of people for years to come. Seems like community input should be gathered for this important selection. — Post submission by Raj Jayadev

By Howard Mintz // hmintz@mercurynews.com (Published on 12.12.11)

Santa Clara County may be losing its top public defender but gaining a well-qualified new judge.

Mary Greenwood, the county’s chief public defender for the past six years, appears to be on the brink of an appointment to the Superior Court bench.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s staff has forwarded her name to a statewide judicial screening commission, which last week began circulating questionnaires on Greenwood in the local legal community, ordinarily a prelude to a judicial appointment.

The Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation, known as JNE, has asked for input on Greenwood by Jan. 8, according to a copy of her questionnaire obtained by this newspaper. The commission then forwards a report to the governor’s office before candidates are named to the bench.

When reached Tuesday, Greenwood, 54, declined to comment.If Greenwood becomes a judge, it will form one of the county’s judicial power couples. Edward Davila, Greenwood’s husband, is a federal judge in San Jose and previously served as a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge.

The county board of supervisors named Greenwood public defender in 2005, succeeding Jose Villarreal, making her the first woman to hold the job in county history.

A veteran of the office for decades, Greenwood is widely credited with taking over a lackluster agency and improving its approach to representing defendants too poor to represent themselves in the thousands of criminal cases that flood the Hall of Justice each year.

Before taking over the department, which has more than 100 lawyers, Greenwood was a supervisor and handled an array of major cases, including murder and death penalty trials, with only brief stints outside the office to work for law firms.

Brown has yet to name any new judges in Santa Clara County since taking office. In fact, his only judicial appointment thus far has been state Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu.

But with names now flowing from JNE, it appears the governor is close to moving forward on judge picks around the state. There are currently five openings on Santa Clara’s 79-member bench, and there are also two vacancies on the seven-member 6th District Court of Appeal in San Jose.

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