A closer look: who is Judge Lisa Novak?

Judge Lisa Novak admonished

Lisa Novak was admitted to the California Bar in 1993. She worked as a deputy district attorney from 1992 - 20011, and left to become a solo practitioner and judge pro tem before being appointed in 2005 by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to fill a vacancy on the judicial bench in San Mateo County. She has served as a judge since her appointment in 2005.

Commission on Judicial Performance disciplinary actions

In 2011, Judge Lisa Novak received an "advisory letter" from California's Commission on Judicial Performance, the state agency responsible for investigating complaints of judicial misconduct and for disciplining judges as provided in the California Constitution.

In 2018, in a separate disciplinary matter against Novak, the Commission on Judicial Performance mentioned the 2011 letter. In 2018, this time, the Commission made the discipline public. The commission found that Judge Novak failed to be patient, dignified, and courteous, among other charges.

The commission's decision was published on several websites, including the one shown on the law.com (shown on right), Palo Alto Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Mateo Daily Journal.

Background: Alejandro Canche attempted murder case

Suspect Alejandro Canche arrested for stabbings at Edgewater IsleOn October 28, 2019, San Mateo Police arrested Alejandro Canche (pictured, left) for the attempted murders of three people in San Mateo. Canche, then 19, of East Palo Alto, was charged with Penal Code §664/187(a) (attempted murder) and §PC 245(a)(1) (assault and battery), all felonies.

Canche and his defense waived his right to a speedy trial and took multiple continuances (delays) while the criminal case languished in the court system. The defense finally made an application for a "mental health diversion," which means in lieu of prosecution for a crime, the defendant is released from custody for mental health treatment.

In an August 27, 2021 hearing, Judge Lisa Novak ruled that she would allow the release of the defendant Alejandro Canche to "mental health diversion." With that decision, the judge put on hold a criminal case nearly two years in the making and denied the victims justice for the violent assaults they suffered.

Did Judge Lisa Novak grant diversion to Alejandro Canche because she had been overturned by an appeals court in another case?

Novak had denied a non- violent defender mental health diversion, a decision overturned by an appeals court.

In a 2018 San Mateo County criminal case, People of California vs Christopher Williams (18SF001211A), defendant Williams was accused of stalking and making threats against an autobody shop owner and his family. The defendant made online, anonymous reviews of the business, made "vicious and threatening harassment" targeted toward the business owner and family. The defendant sent thousands of violent and threatening emails. However, defendant Christopher Williams had never behaved in a physically violent manner.

The case made its way through San Mateo County Superior Court. On February 28, 2020, it came to Judge Lisa Novak for a mental health diversion hearing. Judge Novak denied the mental health diversion. The defendant appealed, and in a decision published on April 30, 2021, an appellate court overturned Judge Lisa Novak's decision, a mere 3+ months before Judge Lisa Novak granted defendant Alejandro Canche's application for mental health diversion.

A reasonable question: Did Judge Lisa Novak grant mental health diversion to a violent offender because she was wary of being overturned again?

Bottom line

Judge Lisa Novak has denied mental health diversion to a non-violent offender, and granted diversion to a violent offender.


1. trellis.law, https://trellis.law/judge/lisa.a.novak

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