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Court: San Francisco Superior CourtAppointed: April 23, 2001Date Of Birth: Aug. 22, 1956Law School: University of Chicago Law SchoolPrior Judicial Experience: NoneSan Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn peered down from the bench at the woman and asked: “Why have you come back to court?”She explained that she was back in Kahn’s domestic violence court to ask the judge to lift a stay-away order she had requested he issue against her boyfriend.The judge thought that was an odd request coming from someone who claimed she had been battered.“It was unusual because it was very serious charges, much more serious than I normally see,” the judge said after the hearing. “She claimed he engaged in all kinds of physical violence and all kinds of death threats.”But the woman later recanted most of her story, and although she didn’t want to see her ex-boyfriend, she wanted him to have visitation with her daughter — even though he wasn’t the child’s biological father.“My thought was there was no need to modify [the stay-away] order for her,” the judge said, “and as for the child, it would be best advised for the defendant to have the advantage of domestic violence classes, where hopefully he will be able to understand the seriousness of what he’s done.”He continued the matter for two months and ordered the woman and man back to court.Dealing with the often emotional situations in domestic violence court is far removed from Kahn’s previous legal career. Prior to taking the bench, the former civil litigator had never handled criminal matters.But with a year on the bench under his belt, Kahn says he is enjoying the challenge. He has also won the admiration of attorneys who have appeared before him.“They just don’t stick anyone in Department 18, because domestic violence, politically, is watched carefully by the whole community,” said solo Aaron Bortel. “He’s the kind of judge expected to go places.”Veteran defense attorney V. Roy Lefcourt said Kahn only needs seasoning on the bench.“His shortcoming is that he’s inexperienced in criminal law, but he’s willing to learn,” Lefcourt said. “He knows he doesn’t know so he runs to the [law] books.”Kahn readily acknowledges his lack of experience in the criminal law field.“My greatest shortcoming is that I haven’t had the opportunity to see other criminal judges in action,” Kahn said. “I can’t use them as models.”Kahn presides over the domestic violence court in the mornings, then switches hats to conduct drug court in the afternoons.Attorneys say he’s a quick study who runs a relaxed but focused courtroom.Solo Brian Petersen tried a shoplifting battery case before Kahn early in his judicial career. The jury deadlocked and the charges were dismissed.Petersen said a boon to his defense was when Kahn permitted an expert to testify that someone had tampered with a store video.“I surely believe a more experienced judge may have excluded it on relevancy,” Petersen said, but Kahn “showed he was serious about doing the right thing. � He wants to learn on the job.”Kahn was a Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe associate from 1983 to 1987, after which he opened his own business law practice. His brother Michael, of Folger, Levin & Kahn, has served as chairman of the Commission on Judicial Performance and advised Gov. Gray Davis on energy issues.Harold Kahn recalled that a major case he handled while a young associate at Heller was representing the San Francisco Foundation in the Buck Fund dispute — even though he lost.In a court-approved settlement, the estimated $400 million Buck Fund was restricted to the Marin Community Foundation and the Buck Center on Aging, he said.“It ultimately became an unsuccessful effort to spend some of Beryl Buck’s money outside Marin County,” Kahn recalled. But Kahn marks the experience of working on a big case early in his career as an important one.Kahn said his most satisfying case as a solo was representing the newly formed DPR Construction Inc. Its three founders were being sued by their former employer for “every kind of unfair competition tort imaginable,” the judge said.Kahn said he settled the case, allowing DPR to grow and become the Bay Area’s fifth largest private company, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.“I was representing the business rights of competitors,” he said. “I love that kind of work.”Kahn said one of the things he enjoys about being a judge is that he no longer need advocate for a client’s position he doesn’t necessarily agree with.“You can call ‘em as you see ‘em” without being restrained by your obligation to the person you are representing, he said. “My tethers now are the law and doing the right thing.”How does he compare civil to criminal law?“Lots of people in the criminal law world take the view that what they’re doing is more important, because it involves people’s lives rather than just money grubbing,” he said.“I think civil law also involves people’s lives, although it might be in the form of money issues.”

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