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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 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.

Lisa Maguire became the Chief Defender of the PDP in December 2019 after 2 years as the Assistant Chief Defender. For sixteen years, Lisa  handled Private Defender cases ranging from misdemeanors to capital cases. While in private practice, in addition to handling some of the Program’s most serious cases, Lisa provided mentorship to newer attorneys on the panel, as well as law students doing their internships with the Private Defender Program.

Eric Liberman became the the Assistant Chief Defender in January 2020.  He joined the PDP administration as Managing Attorney of the Adult Division in August of 2013. After 31 years as a PDP attorney, trying everything from misdemeanors to a complicated capital murder case, Eric has valuable insights and experience that he shares with the younger PDP attorneys he mentors and monitors.

Eric’s responsibilities as Assistant Chief Defender is to assist Chief Defender, Lisa Maguire, and manage the overall operations of the Program. They regularly consult with the lawyers about their cases and the need for experts and investigations. They monitor attorney caseloads and performance measures. They also attend community events and maintain positive working relationships with their Criminal Justice partners. And, they work cooperatively with the County regarding budget and contract terms in order to ensure the continued success of the Program.

Chief Investigator John Maness is a former San Mateo County Deputy Sheriff and a former police commander. He is in his 11th year with the Private Defender Program, managing the Investigations Division. In his role as Chief Investigator, John has maintained a panel of experienced, well-trained investigators available to assist each lawyer with the investigation of their cases. He personally reviews each request for assistance and works to match the appropriate investigator with each case based on their background, training and experience.

To learn more about the Private Defender Program and the great things it offers, please visit their website or contact the office at (650) 298-4000.

Read the Annual Report 2016-2017, created by Myra A. Weiher, Chief Defender.

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