Expressing a vote of confidence in her leadership, today, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors announced the appointment of Molly O’Neal as Public Defender. O’Neal began serving as acting Public Defender last July.
“Molly is a talented and capable attorney who has shown great leadership in her role as interim Public Defender,” said Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager. “I have no doubt that she is the best choice for this permanent appointment. She has already proven that she has the compassion and tenacity needed to run this office.”
O’Neal has served at the Office of the Public Defender since 1990, starting as Trial Attorney in misdemeanor, juvenile and felony cases. She was a member of the Office’s Special Trial Unit from 2001-2006, where she represented clients charged with capital and non-capital homicide or other complex criminal charges, including white collar crime. From 2006 to 2010 O’Neal was Supervising Attorney for the Felony Trial Team, where she directly supervised 20 attorneys handling some of the most serious cases in the office, supporting them with trial strategy and legal research.
O’Neal became Supervising Attorney of the Juvenile Division in 2010. She was appointed Assistant Public Defender in November, 2011, overseeing the Office’s juvenile and research divisions, AB 109 implementation and training, and budget. She also served as new case management project director and legislative office liaison.
According to O’Neal, since voters passed Proposition 36 last fall, the Public Defender’s Office has been very busy handling cases for 150 clients eligible for resentencing under the Three Strikes Law. The Public Defender’s Office also has received a technical assistance grant from The Bronx Defenders, an organization that employs a groundbreaking system of holistic defense to fight both the causes and consequences of involvement in the criminal justice system
“I am extremely honored to have been chosen by the Board and I am looking forward to this opportunity to represent an office that has developed an excellent reputation nationwide,” said O’Neal. “I intend to provide strong leadership and ensure vigorous representation for the indigent accused in this County.”
O’Neal has been actively involved in many committees and collaborations established within the County to lead reforms in Juvenile Justice and conduct strategic planning for County Realignment/Reentry efforts.
O’Neal, 50, earned a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of San Francisco, School of Law, and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Linguistics from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is married to Judge Jacqueline Arroyo and they have two children, ages 15 and 7 years.
O’Neal’s appointment is effective immediately. Her salary is $241,455. The Public Defender Office employs 240 people, including 120 attorneys, clerical staff, investigators and paralegals, and has an annual operating budget of $48 million dollars.
About the Public Defender Office
The Santa Clara County Public Defender is recognized nationwide for working well with other legal system partners. The Office has a diverse workforce with continuous access to training for its attorneys. The Office strives to hire bilingual staff across the board.
The goal of the County of Santa Clara Public Defender Office is to provide quality legal representation to individuals who face criminal charges in adult and juvenile justice court. The Office represents clients in cases ranging from misdemeanors to capital murder, and clients in civil mental health proceedings.
The Public Defender Office represents all persons in criminal cases who cannot afford to hire their own lawyer, regardless of the nature of the case against them or adverse public opinion or media coverage. The office is committed to treat each client with respect, to conduct independent investigation where needed, to test the assumptions made about our client and the evidence. The Office explains the bewildering process that surrounds the criminal justice system to them, and act as strong advocates at all steps of the court process, including trial by jury.
The Public Defender Office (PDO/ADO) was created by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in 1965 in response to the landmark United States Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). After reading Clarence Earl Gideon’s handwritten appeal, the Court ruled unanimously that the assistance of counsel is a fundamental right and essential for a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. As a result, the government now is required to provide an attorney in a criminal case if a person cannot afford to hire a lawyer with his or her own funds. The Public Defender Office is the mandated provider of this critical service to men, women and children in Santa Clara County.