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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Edward J. Davila ’79: Inspirational Journey to the Federal Bench

Once a week, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila ’79 welcomes his law clerks and interns into his office at the San Jose Courthouse, and listens as they share their research on pending cases. Davila enjoys the collaboration and interplay with his bright, energetic staff.

Yet there’s another reason these meetings happen to be Davila’s favorite time of the week. “I strongly believe in opening up opportunities for law graduates, law students, or even college students to be exposed to what we do here in the court. I really feel it’s a public service,” he says.

Davila’s commitment to helping others may stem from his own humble beginnings. Raised by a single mother in a working-class Latino family, Davila was the first in his family to attend college. He became interested in law after studying the tragic impact of U.S. government treaties with Native Americans.

After graduating from UC Hastings, Davila became a deputy public defender in Santa Clara, feeding his passion for bringing justice to the poor and underserved. There, he met his wife, Mary Greenwood ’81, who served as Santa Clara County’s first female public defender and is now on the Santa Clara County Superior Court bench. Even when he left the public defender’s office seven years later to start a private firm, Davila & Polverino, he continued to provide defense counsel to clients from all backgrounds.

Davila credits his involvement in the Santa Clara County Bar Association with landing his an appointment as a Superior Court judge in 2001. (His most infamous case involved a human finger planted in a bowl of Wendy’s chili.) Ten years later, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) nominated Davila to the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of California. He received Senate approval and was appointed by President Barack Obama last year. At the time of the appointment, Davila was the only Latino judge in the Northern District.

Davila presides over some of Northern California’s most influential cases. Though he works long hours and finds the judicial bench isolating, Davila says he’s grateful that his life and work have taken him this far.

“I’m so blessed and fortunate to be around such wonderful people who’ve helped me with my career,” he says.

[ADVICE CORNER]

What advice would you give a lawyer with doubts about his or her case?

Have the confidence to know when your argument won’t carry the day. The hardest thing for a lawyer to do is to say, “I don’t have the facts to win, but I can do the best I can here for my client.” Don’t make your whole career about one case.

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