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 for 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, 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.
Myra Weiher became the Chief Defender/Executive Director of the PDP June 2017. After graduating from the University of California at Davis and then Hastings College of the Law, Myra joined the Private Defender Program. 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.
Lisa Maguire became the Assistant Chief Defender of the PDP in December 2017. She assists the Chief Defender in the overall operation of the Program, and reports directly to her.
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 read the Annual Report 2016-2017, created by Myra A. Weiher, Chief Defender.