Two new judges value greater access to courts for all

Mary Greenwood and Allison Danner to be sworn in next week to Santa Clara County Superior Court

When Allison Danner and Mary Greenwood are sworn in to the Santa Clara County Superior Court this week, they will bring extensive experience from opposite sides of the judicial system. Greenwood has been the county's longtime chief public defender; Danner has been a prosecutor -- an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of California Criminal Division. California Gov. Jerry Brown announced their appointments on May 18.

Both women will leave the partisan roles behind when they don their judicial robes, but they are joining the bench at a critical time, they said. One challenge weighs heavily on their minds: The justice system faces budget cuts that could erode the quality of representation the public receives.

The cuts are coming at a time when more people than ever come to court without an attorney, Greenwood and Danner said.

"It is important to fund our system. Not just as a financial investment. It has importance for us as a society," Danner said. Justice relies on quality, whether through prosecutors, defense attorneys or judges.

Greenwood agreed.

"There is a concern from the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court down on what cutbacks will mean to service of the court to the public," she said.

Santa Clara County has always been fiscally responsible, Greenwood said. But when the cuts are as deep as has been trending "you start worrying about what is offered to the public," she added.

Danner, 41, a Palo Alto resident, has made a career in the federal courts. She is a scholar on international criminal, terrorist and war tribunals who has written extensively on the subject.

She attended Walter Hays and Garland elementary schools and Castilleja School in Palo Alto, and she has a law degree from Stanford University. Becoming a judge in her home county seemed "a wonderful opportunity for public service in a role I think is very inspiring," she said.

Preserving a quality judicial system on the local level, judges provide a foundation that can have implications on a wider scale. In her study of international law, countries where despotic and criminal acts have occurred are where there has been a breakdown in the rule of law, she said.

In countries where the rule of law doesn't exist, there is no mechanism for ordinary people to get access to a hearing of their grievances, she said.

"It's such a gift for us -- and at such a national level -- to have a strong rule of law. (But) the rule of law starts locally. To have a fair process, that is the heart of law, and that's where a Superior Court judge has a role to play -- at the local level," she said.

A judge's role is to help people solve problems they can't solve on their own through the legal system, she added.

She said she has a strong interest in criminal law and cares very much about public safety. But equally important is a fair and open legal process -- one that reflects the values of the community. That is especially important when accusing someone of a crime, she said.

Greenwood agreed. She has worked in the county's public defender's office for 30 years, serving as chief public defender since 2005. She intended to be a college professor, but when she graduated from Grinnell College, a liberal arts college in Iowa, few jobs in her field were available, she said. On an adviser's recommendation, she attended Hastings College of the Law.

The decision to become a public defender drew some quizzical responses from law-enforcement family members. But Greenwood had a strong sense of wanting to represent people in trouble, she said.

"People feel a draw to one side or the other. It is sort of intrinsic in them," she said.

Greenwood, 55, said her public-defender experience will be helpful on the bench.

"I'm very conversant with the process of litigation and the different rules between civil and criminal law. I feel a great sense of ease in the courtroom. It's very familiar territory. But I'll be the neutral. That's the nature of the judge's role," she said.

"In criminal and particularly now in civil arenas, many people are unrepresented litigants -- especially in family law and civil harassment cases. You deal with people in trouble and who are under a great deal of stress. I can speak to people in those situations," she said.

Greenwood will fill the vacancy of retiring judge Alfonso Fernandez. But her husband, Judge Edward J. Davila, inspires her in her new job, she said. Davila was a Superior Court judge, and he is now on the U.S. District Court. (Danner will fill his Superior Court vacancy.)

"He would not say this, but it's his reputation -- his great demeanor," she said. "He is very patient and very considerate of all of the parties who come before him, and he oversees the proceedings in ways that bring out the best in people," Greenwood said.

As both new judges pack up their belongings and finish up their cases, there is one task they'll need to complete before taking the bench: go shopping.

As of last week Danner hadn't yet purchased her judge's robe, she said.

Under state law she must purchase the garment herself, and it's pricey. Robes cost between $110 and about $400. They come in polyester, wool, crepe and 100 percent silk and have names such as "Coupe deVille," "Brocade" and "Peachskin," according to vendors.

Danner said she doesn't expect to find a retail judge's store.

"I think you buy them online," she said.


Posted by Member, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 18, 2012 at 10:47 am

The judicial system has been rigged for years. Last year, I needed to accomplish something regarding a living trust estate. When I started everyone indicated I could accomplish the task without hiring an attorney. When I started to examine the simple task the time consumption was terrilbe. In the end, I had to hire an attoreny who took one hour and billed me nearly $500. For the attorney the task was simple, for the lay person the task would have taken hours. When the two new judges are appointed, I'm sure the same system will be in place. Let's face it, the legal profession is going to help lawyers soak us for high priced simple work. In the end, the same expensive system will be in place for the consumers. We will have little choice but to pay the terrible fees of $200-500 an hour.

Posted by Arch Conservative, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 18, 2012 at 11:28 am

Way too many lawyers and way too many judges.
Should follow Shakespeare's statements in Henry VI.
Life would become much simpler and easier.

Posted by Buffaloed Bilious, a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2012 at 3:39 pm

When laws are outlawed, only outlaws will have laws.

Posted by Debbie Cauble, a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2012 at 8:09 pm

This was a great article until the writer felt compelled to mention shopping. Seriously? Would you have mentioned that in an article about two qualified male appointees to the Superior Court? To be sure I am not overly sensitive I discussed this with the diverse group of women in my book club. All agreed after reading the article that the shopping reference was silly, sexist, and detracted from what otherwise was a good bit of reporting.

Congratulations to these two excellent additions to the Superior Court bench.

Posted by Wo'O Ideafarm, a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 9, 2013 at 1:30 pm

There is truth in Debbie Cauble's objection, just as there is truth in the stereotype that she objects to mention of. But to the extent that the stereotype is valid, i.e. to the extent that women enjoy shopping more than men do, a light hearted reference to it fits naturally at the end of the article. If the new judges were men, and the author chose to end the article with a mention of some stereotypically male interest or pastime, that would not be sexist. Sexism would come in only if the remark was intended to suggest that only men, or alternatively only women, can be good judges. That is clearly not the intent or the effect in this article, which was written by a woman.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Agree about the shopping comment. Regrettably, the Weekly often has difficulty with women who step outside of traditional gender roles. It's disappointing. Congratulations to Judges Danner and Greenwood.

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