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Court: Alameda County Superior Court

Appointed: 1986 by Gov. Deukmejian

Date of Birth: July 30, 1949

Previous Judicial Experience: Appointed to the San Leandro-Hayward Municipal Court by Deukmejian in December 1983.

Law Degree: University of San Francisco School of Law

Lawyers who appear before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman need to remember these names: Fil Cruz and Linda Thissell.

"The one cardinal rule is that lawyers should never disrespect my staff," Goodman said.

Cruz, the court clerk, has worked with Goodman for eight years and Thissell, the court reporter, has worked with Goodman for 13 years. When attorneys are high-handed with a court staff member, the judge hears about it. Goodman says he’s not shy about calling lawyers on it.

Goodman is a former civil attorney who was elevated to the superior court in 1986, after spending more than two years in municipal court. Although he started out as a civil attorney, he has become a respected criminal trial judge.

His courtroom sees gruesome crimes and a fair share of the county’s death penalty cases, and he’s currently presiding over the penalty phase in a death penalty case for a couple convicted of the kidnap, torture and murder of 22-year-old Vanessa Samson in 1997.

Lawyers can spend months in his courtroom trying big cases, and they say that Goodman makes it a comfortable place to be — the judge calls lawyers by their first names, attorneys are offered coffee, and they can enter the courtroom early to set up.

Goodman can be somewhat conservative, but he is an even-handed trial judge, attorneys say.

"He is a judge who will let you try your case," said Nancy O’Malley, chief assistant DA.

"He doesn’t always rule for one side or the other," said O’Malley, who has tried sexual assault cases before Goodman. "He listens."

"He will be fair," Oakland criminal defense attorney Deborah Levy agreed.

Goodman also is open to using new ideas in court.

O’Malley said the judge allowed her to give the jurors binders with color-coded sections, so that it would be easier for them to understand a complex sex assault case with several victims.

"He’s the kind of judge that will let me do what is legally possible to keep it moving," she said.

Goodman, who often must request numerous jury panels for high-profile cases, uses a system of colored necklaces and numbers to identify potential jurors. Before that, potential jurors were sometimes referred to by their names during voir dire.

"We deal with the kind of cases that people are uncomfortable having their name out there," said Goodman.

Goodman is comfortable with innovation, but he frankly admits that he isn’t comfortable with all of the ways his job has changed since the state took more control of the courts. The Republican Deukmejian appointee likes the judicial seniority system and longs for the old muni court days.

Maybe that’s why defense lawyers praise Goodman for his social worker instincts, but also label him as a conservative. When Goodman presided over the master calendar, defense attorneys say, it was widely known that he frowned upon defendants who were accused of evading police in high-speed pursuits.

"That puts people in jeopardy," said Goodman, "It’s a total disregard for life." He added that he may have been tougher than other judges on those cases.

"He makes no bones about it that he is pro-death [penalty]," said Levy, who was co-counsel in a death penalty case before Goodman.

The judge said that not all people convicted of murder should get the death penalty, and he is troubled by long delays in the way that the death penalty is administered.

However, Goodman said, "I firmly believe that there are crimes that are so heinous that the [perpetrators] forfeit their right to exist."

On the other hand, attorneys say, Goodman strives to help defendants who want to change their lives.

The judge helped establish a mentoring program for young, small-time drug dealers five years ago. The Crossroads mentoring program is a nonprofit that tries to steer former defendants into jobs and schooling. The post-conviction program is limited to 25 people, and successful participants can get their probation shortened or, in cases of dramatic improvement, get felonies removed from their record.

Goodman may get labeled a conservative "but he started the drug [mentorship] program — stuff that is the way that we do drug court now," said O’Malley.

"He may be stern, but always deservedly," said C. Don Clay, an Oakland defense attorney who has appeared before Goodman and who is president of the Crossroads board of directors.

"He is a compassionate man."

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