James R. Williams

Photo of James R. Williams

​​​James R. Williams is the County Executive for the County of Santa Clara, a position he has held since July 2023. He is a first-generation American and the first person of color to lead the largest and most diverse county in Northern California.

His path in public service began at an early age. James’s love of government began when he became president of his elementary school’s student body and in middle school became the youngest City Hall intern for the City of Portland. He was raised by a single mother, a professor of education who instilled in him the importance of public service.

Those early experiences laid the foundation for James’s role today as the County Executive, overseeing a county operation that serves 2 million residents, with an annual operating budget of $12 billion and more than 23,000 employees. His focus on social justice is a cornerstone of the administration, which is known for its innovative work focused on creating a more livable and just community for the county’s residents—40% of whom are foreign born.

James began his career with the County in 2010 as a Social Justice & Impact Litigation Fellow in the Office of the County Counsel. Shortly thereafter, he delivered the successful oral argument before the California Supreme Court on what would become one of the most consequential taxation cases in state history. His work resulted in the dissolution of the state’s more than 400 redevelopment agencies and the return of billions of dollars each year to K-12 schools and safety net services across California.

James later served as a Deputy County Executive, where he provided oversight of critical County departments and programs. James then was selected by the Board of Supervisors to serve as the County Counsel, serving as the chief legal advisor to the Board of Supervisors and all County elected officials and department heads, and leading a staff of over 100 attorneys.

As the County Counsel, James led several major efforts to protect the County and the broader public, including:

  • ensuring healthcare access for underserved communities by guiding the legal work to successfully acquire and bring O’Connor and St. Louise hospitals out of bankruptcy and into the County’s Health System;
  • leading numerous efforts to successfully challenge unlawful federal actions by the Trump Administration;
  • holding manufacturers of lead paint and opioids accountable through major impact litigation; and,
  • protecting the public’s health through the County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including crafting, defending, and enforcing vital public health orders.

Throughout the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic, James served as a Director of the County’s Emergency Operations Center, earning the County national acclaim for its pandemic response. He played a key role launching one of the most extensive County-operated community testing and vaccination programs in the nation, which provided more than 1.6 million PCR tests and 1.9 million COVID-19 vaccinations to community members. 

James’s vision is for Santa Clara County to be a place of belonging for all its residents, including those most impacted by social inequities. He understands the unique role that the County plays as the safety net for the most vulnerable members of our community by prioritizing and investing in safety net services for all people.

“In the coming years, we will remain focused on the County’s mission to advance equity and deliver excellent services,” he said. “My hope is for Santa Clara County to be a place where every resident feels that the local government and surrounding community is built first and foremost with their needs in mind, where necessary resources are available for each person, regardless of their neighborhood, identity, or economic standing. These have been core pillars of my work at the County, and I believe they are foundational for all of us as we collectively tackle the many challenges of today and those of tomorrow.”

James graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University, with an A.B. in Public and International Affairs and received his law degree from Stanford Law School. James has received numerous academic and professional honors, including the M. Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, Princeton University’s highest undergraduate distinction. He is also a Harry S. Truman Scholar and a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow.

James and his wife live in Santa Clara County with their four school-aged children.

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