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County Appoints Molly O’Neal Acting Public Defender


SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. – Today, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors announced the appointment of Molly O’Neal as Acting Public Defender. O’Neal will step into the new role on July 2, replacing Mary Greenwood, who was recently appointed to the Superior Court of California.

“We welcome Molly in this important leadership role in the criminal justice system,” said Supervisor George Shirakawa, President, County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors and Chair of the Board’s Public Safety and Justice Committee. “The Public Defender’s Office and its clients will continue to benefit from her vision and experience.”

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. 

“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, 49, 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 14 and 6.

The Board will begin a recruitment and hiring process for a Chief Public Defender later this summer, which President Shirakawa anticipates to include a community engagement component.

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.

Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Marina Hinestrosa, Office of Public Affairs, (408) 299-5119; Molly O’Neal, Acting Public Defender (408) 299-7702
Posted: June 15, 2012