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Born: Jan. 17, 1952 Appointed: 1998, by Gov. Pete Wilson Previous work of note: Contra Costa County Superior Court, 1989-1998 Law degree: Hastings College of the Law (1977) With just nine months on the First District Court of Appeal, Patricia Sepulveda has yet to make her mark. But in the few opinions she’s penned, as well as in oral arguments in recent months, the Division Four justice’s style is emerging. Though she isn’t particularly active in oral argument, she asks her questions — which are often written out before argument — confidently. And she expects straight answers. “The thing that has bothered me most in oral argument is when they don’t answer the question,” she says. Sepulveda, who was appointed in the last days of Gov. Pete Wilson’s term, followed a squad of her Contra Costa County Superior Court colleagues to First District headquarters in San Francisco: Ignacio Ruvolo, Douglas Swager and Michael Phelan, whose seat she inherited. Sepulveda doesn’t bring much civil experience to the job. On the Contra Costa bench for nine years, Sepulveda — a Fresno native who was the first in her family to graduate from college — mostly heard criminal trials and was supervising judge of the family law department for three years. Before becoming a judge, Sepulveda was a Contra Costa County deputy district attorney for 11 years, where she founded the sex crimes unit. “She isn’t biased toward the defense,” cautions Contra Costa County Public Defender David Coleman III, who spoke at Sepulveda’s confirmation. But, he says, she does let both sides make their case. In an interview in chambers last week, Sepulveda said she hired one of her two staff attorneys, Andrew Trott, in part because he spent time representing criminal defendants on appeal. And in a recent criminal case, her questions certainly didn’t suggest prosecutorial bias. Goorjian & McCabe’s Frank McCabe was representing Alfonso Roundtree, who was convicted of rape despite claims that he was having consensual sex with a 15-year-old in his car. The minor told him to stop because she heard footsteps approaching, he claimed, but he didn’t stop. At trial, the minor claimed she never consented at all. One question before the court: Can a consensual act become rape if the alleged victim says “no” after intercourse begins? “Was there sufficient evidence in this case of duress or force or menace after the withdrawal of the consent?” Sepulveda asked McCabe. “What if there was no evidence of menace, duress or threat?” On the civil side, Sepulveda acknowledges that her lack of experience is a handicap. But she points out that both of her research attorneys — Trott and Suzanne Murphy — have civil experience. “I’m not so much worried about it being a liability,” she says. “It just takes me a little more time.” So far, so good. Sepulveda published her first newsworthy civil opinion in August. In Pan Asia Venture Capital Corp. v. Hearst Corp., 99 C.D.O.S. 8651, she overturned the San Francisco Independent‘s $3 million judgment against the San Francisco Examiner in a newspaper feud over a contract to publish official notices. Sepulveda said S.F. Superior Court Judge Donald Mitchell improperly limited the Examiner‘s introduction of financial evidence, thereby guaranteeing an Independent victory. The opinion was well-written and solidly reasoned, says one senior appellate attorney who was not involved. Jon Eisenberg, a former First District staff attorney who argued Pan Asia on behalf of the Independent, says it’s too early to tell much about Sepulveda. “Justice [Donald] King used to tell new justices that their most important decision would be who to hire as their staff attorneys,” Eisenberg says. “If that’s true, then Justice Sepulveda has started well.”�

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