"Fairness requires the defense be represented early in planning for significant changes," she said.
Greenlee has headed the Defender Association for 20 years. Her 265 lawyers represent 70 percent of Philadelphia criminal defendants, those too poor to hire a private attorney.
In Zone Court, prosecutors, judges, and defendants are now assigned to dedicated courtrooms in the main courthouse based on the neighborhoods in which a crime allegedly took place.
Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and Justice Seamus McCaffery joined with Williams in rolling out the Zone Court plan in November, ending hearings at neighborhood police stations. They said centralizing trials in the highly secure Center City courthouse would reduce witness intimidation and ensure that the same group of prosecutors, judges, and police would see a case through to its end.
Municipal Court President Judge Marsha Neifield testified Monday that Zone Court was "working really well."
Greenlee stopped short of questioning the value of Zone Court, confining her criticism to the process by which it was begun. But, in views shared by others in the defense bar, she also denounced other changes put into place since Williams became district attorney a year ago.
She said she opposed recent changes in how the courts conduct preliminary hearings, the key initial sessions in which Municipal Court judges decide if there is enough evidence to hold defendants for a full trial.
Under rules changes spearheaded by Castille and McCaffery, victims in many property-crime cases need no longer testify at these early hearings. Instead, police take the stand on their behalf, testifying that the victims had reported items stolen.
The two justices also pushed through rules changes in Philadelphia giving prosecutors more time to put their cases on.
Greenlee was scornful of those changes, saying, "Let's stop tinkering with the preliminary-hearing process."
In contrast to Greenlee, Williams told the panel that major reforms had been needed to transform a system he said was marred by some of the nation's lowest conviction rates and a disregard for the needs of victims.
Castille and McCaffery said they acted in response to an Inquirer report on the courts, published in December 2009 and titled "Justice: Delayed, Dismissed, Denied." The series spotlighted the court's low conviction rates, its high fugitive rates, and widespread fear and fatigue on the part of witnesses.
State Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf, a Republican who represents parts of Montgomery and Bucks Counties and is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, created the panel that met Monday in response to the series. It is to recommend reforms, such as changes in state law or new state funding, in a report in December.
The group, chaired by Temple University law professor David Sonenshein, is more broad-based than a smaller advisory panel reporting to the Supreme Court. Among others, the volunteer state Senate panel includes criminologists, former prosecutors and judges, top private defense lawyers - and Greenlee.
In her testimony, Greenlee was also skeptical about the issue of witness intimidation, saying that her office defended relatively few clients charged with that crime.
"I still haven't heard any responsible evidence that there is this huge witness-intimidation problem," she said.
Later in the hearing, Common Pleas Court Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes provided starkly different testimony. Hughes, the author of a new "bench book" advising judges how to spot and squelch threats against witnesses, spoke of three witnesses in homicide cases she handled who ended up murdered themselves.
"It's a growing problem. It's becoming more sophisticated every day," Hughes said of efforts to frighten witnesses. "It's far more prevalent than you realize."
After the session, Greenlee said she had found Hughes' remarks to be persuasive. "Clearly, there's a lot more to that issue than was apparent to me here," Greenlee said.
Contact staff writer Craig R. McCoy at 215-854-4821 or firstname.lastname@example.org.