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Court: San Francisco SuperiorAppointed: June 16, 2000, by Gov. DavisDate Of Birth: July 31, 1957Law School: Hastings College of the Law, 1984Previous Employment: Deputy city attorneyMany judges view an assignment to juvenile court with disdain — as a stepping stone to more interesting work in adult courts. The result is sometimes less-than-inspired work with youthful offenders.But when a judge actually likes the assignment and wants to be there, magic can happen. That seems to be the case with Judge Katherine Feinstein.Feinstein, who enthusiastically accepted the assignment to the city’s Youth Guidance Center, is receiving uniformly positive — and often glowing — reviews from the attorneys who appear before her. With much experience working with troubled youth under her belt before she became a judge, Feinstein has the right combination of skill, concern for kids, and work ethic for the job, her colleagues say.“She’s magnificent, I think,” said Jack Jacqua, co-founder of the Omega Boys Club in San Francisco, a San Francisco youth program. “She’s a breath of fresh air, someone who cares so very much about the welfare of the child.”Assistant District Attorney Paul Henderson speaks of Feinstein in equally glowing terms.“She’s a pleasure and a joy to work with,” he said.What makes Feinstein so popular?First off, it’s her know-how. Prior to her appointment, Feinstein headed the San Francisco city attorney’s child dependency unit. She also worked privately as an advocate for abused and neglected children.“Her prior knowledge of the system has really helped,” said James McCarthy, an attorney in private practice in San Francisco. “This is not new territory for her.”Attorneys also say they appreciate Feinstein’s willingness to fashion creative solutions to help kids.For example, McCarthy recalled one client who was detained at Juvenile Hall awaiting placement in a sex offender program.Instead of letting him languish there for months until the placement opened up, Feinstein agreed to let a therapist visit him and begin treatment while he was still in detention.The most often mentioned example of her willingness to innovate is a new program she co-created in which troubled teens are trooped out to San Quentin for a close-up look at the consequences of crime.“She’s participated in that program not only in words but in action,” says the Omega Club’s Jacqua, a co-founder of the program. “It’s a very unusual participation by a member of the judiciary.”Attorneys also extol Feinstein’s work ethic.“She’s there night and day,” says Henderson, the prosecutor. “There’s never a report she hasn’t read, a file she hasn’t reviewed.”Her preparation shows. On the bench on a recent Monday morning, Feinstein managed to convey a sense that she grasped the heart of the conflict in the life of each of the teen-agers who appeared before her.“I’m concerned about your drug use,” Feinstein told a pretty but sullen 14-year-old in a sweatshirt. “The report says you’re sneaking out at all hours to smoke weed. You’re late to school. This one thing is really holding you back.”“The question is what can we do to get you to stop?” she asked.In the end, the 14-year-old is sentenced to substance abuse counseling twice a week and ordered to stay away from her pot-smoking friends.Things didn’t end as well for another young woman, a Filipina with long, streaked hair and a methamphetamine problem. “You’ve got a lot of talents, a lot of skills,” Feinstein told her. “You’ve got to set this bad stuff aside in your life because it is really hampering you.”The girl’s attorney suggested that his client was depressed and was using uppers to self-medicate. He suggested counseling, but Feinstein thought the situation had gotten out of hand.“I have a couple of concerns about her family and their unwillingness to do what they need to do,” she told him. “I think she can make it, I think she can be successful, but she’s got too many things weighing her down.”She ordered the girl into a drug rehabilitation program, and promised to personally call retired Judge Ina Gyemant to ensure that she got a placement, despite the fact that adult programs don’t want to take her because her drug offenses took place before she turned 18.“I want you to listen to what I have to say,” Feinstein said, turning to the girl. “Everyone is going to try to work together over the next few days to find some programs to help you address that. I know you are concerned about it, too. I can tell.”“It’s going to get better,” she added. “I promise.”Off the bench, Feinstein — who bears a striking resemblance to her mother, Sen. Dianne Feinstein — is animated and passionate in discussing her work.“I’m really earnest about wanting to make things better for these kids,” she says. “My overall goal is to help keep them out of the adult system.”Feinstein says she tries to give kids a chance to reform before detaining them — but sometimes finds she must take more severe approaches when teens exhibit truly alarming behavior, such as violent crime and prostitution.“If I have a 14-year-old girl picked up for loitering at 4 a.m. on the corner of 18th and Capp, something is very wrong. Even if it is a misdemeanor offense, I am going to have some real concern,” she says.For nonviolent crimes, including theft and drug offenses, “I’m going to give them a chance and see if they can follow a probation plan,” she says.Feinstein says she can’t see herself doing civil court, and that she’s committed to staying in her assignment for now and the foreseeable future.“There are days I want to spend the rest of my career here, and there are days I want to move to another assignment — effective the very next day,” she says. “I think the real test is if I can do it for two to three years. It is emotionally difficult work because it is so human.”Feinstein, who was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis in June 2000, is getting a reputation among the defense bar as ready to detain kids when she sees the need to.“She does come from a pretty conservative viewpoint and does believe that kids should be detained when they are a little bit out of control,” says Deputy Public Defender Francis Brass, who nonetheless calls Feinstein “one of his favorite judges.” “She could from my perspective loosen up a little bit about that,” he says.But if Feinstein can be tough, so far the defense bar doesn’t seem to be holding it against her.“She follows what needs to be done,” sighs San Francisco defense attorney Joseph Tomsic. “Unfortunately, there is not always something we can do for them. We try.”

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