The Private Defender Program
San Mateo County does not have a traditional Public Defender’s Office. Since 1968, the County of San Mateo has contracted with the San Mateo County Bar Association to provide indigent criminal defense.
The Private Defender Program (PDP) is appointed by the San Mateo County Superior Court to represent all persons financially eligible for the appointment of counsel at public expense, including but not limited to: persons accused of all felonies and misdemeanors, juveniles in delinquency cases, juveniles and parents in dependency cases, and cases brought pursuant to the provisions of the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act. The Association employs a Chief Defender, an Assistant Chief Defender, a Managing Attorney for Juvenile Operations and Adult Operations, a Chief Investigator and a support staff.
The Program has established itself as the preeminent private indigent defense organization in the Country. In August 2012, in Chicago Illinois, the Private Defender Program and the San Mateo County Bar Association were greatly honored to receive the Harrison Tweed award. Cited for its pervasive excellence over the past 43 years, the San Mateo County Bar Association accepted this coveted award presented by the Standing Committee Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants of the American Bar Association and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.
John Digiacinto is the Chief Defender of the Private Defender Program, a controlled assigned counsel program in San Mateo County, California. He graduated from Lincoln University School of Law in 1977 and was admitted to the bar that same year. In private practice he represented indigent clients as a PDP lawyer for 12 years. He handled the complete range of criminal and juvenile cases, beginning his career with misdemeanors and advancing to the defense of the most serious of felonies, including capital murder cases. He has taught trial advocacy to public defenders and assigned counsel from around the country by invitation of the Institute of Criminal Defense Advocacy in San Diego. He became the Assistant Chief Defender of the PDP in October 1989 and the Chief Defender in July 2000.
In addition to leading the innovative and well-respected Private Defender Program, John was appointed by the State Bar Board of Governors to the ten-member commission tasked with revising the 1990 Indigent Defense Guidelines for California. This working group presented its proposed revised Guidelines to the State Bar Board of Governors, which approved and promulgated them in January 2006. He is also a member of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association’s American Council of Chief Defenders, the California Public Defenders Association and its California Council of Chief Defenders, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Myra Weiher became the Assistant Chief Defender of the PDP in April 2006. She assists the Chief Defender in the overall operation of the Program, and reports directly to him. She also acts as the Assistant Executive Director of the Association.
After graduating from the University of California at Davis and then Hastings College of the Law, Myra was appointed to defend her first case for the PDP in 1973. During the 40 years that she has defended the indigent people of San Mateo County, Myra has handled virtually every kind of criminal case. She is a veteran of many murder trials, and was the first woman to act as lead defense counsel in a death penalty case in San Mateo County. In addition to homicides and serious felonies, she had a special interest in representing clients whose cases were related to mental health issues, including Sexually Violent Predators, people involuntarily confined to mental hospitals under the terms of the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, and those who have been hospitalized after being found not guilty by reason of insanity. Myra is a member of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association’s American Council of Chief Defenders, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the California Public Defenders Association.
Richard Halpern has served as the Managing Attorney of the Juvenile Division since 2011 and in 2013 Eric Liberman came on board to serve as the Managing Attorney of the Adult Division. Both attorneys are long-standing members of the Program, having each practiced for more than 30 years before joining the Administration, and both have handled the most serious types of cases during their tenure with the Program.
To learn more about the Private Defender Program and the great things it offers, please click on the image above or read the 2014-2015 PDP Annual Report, created by John S. Digiacinto, Chief Defender.