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SAN JOSE — The Santa Clara County public defender’s office hopes to hire two top-level defense attorneys within several weeks to fill positions vacated recently by retirement. The new assistant public defenders will replace Ronald Norman and Grant Armstrong, Chief Assistant Public Defender David Mann said. Norman retired in January and Grant retired in late March. Both had reputations as hard-working administrators and unflappable trial lawyers. Among the names mentioned recently as likely candidates are Acting Assistant PD Nona Klippen, Deputy PD Jose “Joe” Guzman, the felony team supervisor, and Deputy PD Nancy Brewer, who heads the research team. Officials would not comment on possible candidates. But Mann said it would be difficult to replace Norman and Armstrong because they had a combined 70 years of experience with the public defender’s office. Both were intimately familiar with county courthouses and friendly with most prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges, he said. “It’s going to be tough without them,” Mann said. “All of the new candidates are quality people but none of them have the experience and institutional knowledge that Ron and Grant had. “The real task for us is to find people that might not have the breadth and depth of experience but can grow into the job.” Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu dealt with both retired attorneys when they worked as administrators. She said they were common-sense litigators — not unrealistic “true believers.” She added that both were well respected by younger attorneys because of their long trial experience. “They were practical and not just knee-jerk [attorneys] with a wealth of institutional knowledge,” she said. “They had a lot of people sense and were respected.” Asked if they could be replaced, Sinunu said: “It depends on whom they are picking.” Outside of their experience, Mann said the office would miss the attorneys’ “good, sound judgment.” “You face challenges every day of the work week in this job,” he said. “You have to learn to make the right calls in cases — and they could.” “They were the pillars that held the office together for years,” said Alternate Public Defender Mary Greenwood. “They would always ask �what is the right thing to do for the client and the office’ and work to provide great, ethical criminal defense.” Mann said he did not know if they would receive applications from outside the office but said the jobs were recently posted on the county’s Web site. Deputy Public Defender Gilda Valeros, who joined the office in 1998 and worked briefly with Norman, said whoever takes the positions should be capable of motivating overworked public defenders. “They’ll need to be able to placate stressed-out attorneys when their vacations get denied,” said Valeros, a felony trial lawyer. “Ideally, you’d also like to see someone with a lot of trial experience so they are sensitive to the stress levels and know the strengths of the people in the trenches.” Public Defender Jose Villareal is overseeing the search. He did not return calls requesting comment. The public defender’s office was the subject of controversy recently when Deputy Public Defender Thomas Spielbauer — who had 23 years of experience himself — was fired after being charged with a misdemeanor count of misleading the court. He recently lost an appeal to the Santa Clara County personnel board asking to be reinstated.

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