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Court: First District Court of Appeal Appointed: Jan. 25, 2002 Date of Birth: May 16, 1945 Law School: Santa Clara University School of Law Prior Judicial Experience: San Mateo County Superior Court It’s a Thursday morning in late June, and Justices Barbara Jones and Mark Simons sit practically stone-faced as one attorney after another comes before them at San Francisco’s First District Court of Appeal. But to their immediate left, Justice Linda Gemello hides no emotion. The newest justice on Division Five furrows her brow and shakes her head negatively one moment, then appears puzzled the next. She flashes bemusement for a second, and breaks into a big grin later. In between, she also lobs some pretty pointed questions. All in all, Gemello, who’s been on the court for about six months, dives right into oral argument with vigor, and her ever-changing facial expressions are part of it, as they’ve been part of her whole life. “The nuns told me in the second grade that if I continued to furrow my brow, I would have permanent furrows,” Gemello says. “And I do.” Gov. Gray Davis plucked Gemello, 47, from the San Mateo County Superior Court. Her arrival, which filled a longtime vacancy, was greatly anticipated by Simons, Jones and Justice Lawrence Stevens, who were swamped with work. And they say they haven’t been disappointed. “She is very intelligent and logical,” Simons says, “so when we get together and talk about cases, she is very good at spotting logical gaps.” Adds Jones: “She really is a hard worker. She arrives early and she stays late.” Jones, the presiding justice of Division Five, points to data that reveals that from the time Gemello joined the court in late January until the end of June, she authored 19 unpublished opinions — seven civil, four criminal and eight juvenile — and participated in 51 other rulings. The quarterly average per judge in Division Five, Jones says, ranges from 20 to 24 opinions. “So I think she’s right sort of in the middle of the pack,” Jones says. “She’s brand new to the court, she didn’t have any staff [for more than two months] and it takes time to work up a case.” Gemello, who’s as upbeat behind the scenes as she is on the bench, admits it was a challenge working without staff at first, and in choosing two attorneys for her staff from among 143 applicants for research attorney positions at the court. But she says she likes the quietness of the court and the “leisure of time to study what we do.” “Most interesting is the diverse nature of the cases that come before us,” she says. “And it’s good to have judges who are engaged in the same cases. You didn’t have that on the trial court.” Born in Montreal, Gemello didn’t come to the bench in the traditional fashion. Her first career was teaching English at Mountain View’s Los Altos High School in the late ’60s and at Santa Clara University in the early ’70s. She got her law degree from Santa Clara in 1980 and worked as an associate for four years and a partner for 12 years at a Millbrae firm known as Corey, Luzaich, Gemello, Manos & Pliska by the time she joined the San Mateo bench in 1996. Praise for her before and during her confirmation to the appeal court ran the gamut. Friends, lawyers, fellow judges and several law enforcement officers credited her with everything from “extraordinary intelligence” and “quiet dignity” to “an energetic, collegial personality,” the “highest integrity” and “an ability to see straight to the heart of an issue.” Retired First District Justice Robert Kane called Gemello “a genuine jurisprudential gem” in a letter to the court during the confirmation period. “Quite frankly, her elevation to the court of appeal would create a deficit in the quality of the San Mateo Superior Court, but that really proves my case — she is that good!” Redwood City lawyer Daniel Staggs has nothing but good words for Gemello despite losing a personal injury case before her in 1998. “It was very obvious to me that she had thoroughly read all the papers and was trying her best to be fair on a very difficult issue,” he says. “I still remember coming back to the office and telling the other attorney in my office that if she ruled against me I had had a fair shot. In fact, she did rule against me and I’ve never regretted it.” But not everyone is a Gemello fan. Coastal activist Oscar Braun, of Half Moon Bay, remains critical of Gemello’s 1997 ruling that tossed out his suit aimed at blocking the controversial Devil’s Slide tunnel planned for Highway 1 south of Pacifica. “I felt literally her grasp of the issues was wanting,” he says. “I thought the issues were clear and unambiguous and that someone more learned and [who had] done a little bit more judicial due diligence would have come up with a more appropriate ruling.” That said, the First District’s Division Four later upheld Gemello’s ruling. Joseph Cotchett, who spoke on Gemello’s behalf at her confirmation, calls her “one of the most dedicated jurists I know,” and says she takes a practical approach to the law. “She will not tolerate legal nonsense,” says the partner at Burlingame’s Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy. Gemello says she prefers that lawyers coming before her respond directly to her questions and that they be faithful to the law. “I like to be engaged in an argument,” she says, “and I’m most willing to have someone tell me I’m wrong.” And she has faith that lawyers will be honest. “We can’t afford cynicism as judges,” she says. “We owe it to the public to believe that their lawyers are trying their case the best they can.” As for those facial expressions on the bench, Cotchett sums it up succinctly: “She’s Italian. What do you expect?”

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