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Court: San Francisco Superior Court Appointed: August 2000, by Gov. Gray Davis Date of Birth: June 24, 1952 Previous Judicial Experience: None Law Degree: University of Virginia School of Law Crusty Hall of Justice lawyers can be quick to make mincemeat out of new judges — especially the white-shoe kind, who assume the gavel without a day of criminal law experience. The verdict in Peter Busch’s case is still out. Defense attorneys love Busch’s demeanor on the bench and relatively moderate approach to law enforcement. “He’s a smart guy, he’s courteous, he’s not ego-driven,” says Deputy Public Defender Danielle Harris, who is currently assigned to Busch’s courtroom. “He’s generally respectful toward defendants — no matter who they are or what their lot in life.” But one district attorney, speaking on the condition of anonymity, says Busch is simply too lenient on quality-of-life crimes and out of touch with the public’s frustration with these types of violations. “Busch has just been notorious for letting people go, regardless of whether they have long histories of bench warrants,” says this assistant DA. “He does not believe there is a quality-of-life problem in San Francisco.” Busch said he makes each decision on a case-by-case basis. The assistant DA’s comment “is the sort of statement I can’t respond to, except to laugh,” he said. Previously a partner at the elite Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin, Busch was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis in June 2000 and was summarily sent to the Hall for his first assignment. The former litigator — who handled cases ranging from securities fraud to intellectual property — now spends his days presiding over misdemeanors such as drunken driving, stay-away order violations and petty thefts. He says he doesn’t mind. “It’s been an education. I am coming into contact with people who weren’t part of the world I practiced law in,” he said. Busch is in good standing with the defense bar because he has not risen to the bench with the aim of coming down hard on petty criminals, says one experienced private defense attorney, also speaking on condition of anonymity. Some new judges arrive with an “I am going to show society” mentality, this attorney said. “Their frame of reference as to what is really bad conduct is not just skewed, it’s not present.” That’s not the case with Busch. “He’s nice, decent, passionate, he listens,” he added. “He’s inexperienced in criminal law, and it takes a long time to get up to speed.” But Busch is intelligent, does his research and reads papers, he said. “He seems very even handed,” agrees defense attorney Gail Dekreon, who recently tried a case before Busch. When the prosecutor surprised her with new evidence the night before the trial was to begin, the judge ordered a delay. “He told the DA, ‘This isn’t the right thing to do,’” she said. On the bench, Busch — who looks a little like Abraham Lincoln — is serious and focused without coming off as stern. He is exceptionally polite to defendants: On a recent morning in his courtroom, a disheveled, mentally ill defendant, in court for violating a stay-away order, kept interrupting his public defender, who was trying to help the judge calendar the man’s next court appearance. A date was picked in October — but the man burst out, “That’s my birthday. I can’t come.” “OK, we’ll pick a different date,” Busch replied without missing a beat, temporarily quieting the man. Busch says he is conscious of the way he interacts with defendants. “I think it is very important that defendants come away with respect for the system and feeling that they have been treated fairly by the system,” he said. An essential component of that philosophy is presuming that every defendant is innocent, Busch added. Pro-Busch sentiment is not universal among the defense. One private defense attorney, speaking anonymously, said Busch is still only beginning to get a handle on criminal law. “He doesn’t have a hands-on approach in terms of settlements,” this attorney said. “He’ll say, I think this case is settleable, but he doesn’t have a hands-on approach. A lot of the plea bargains are done outside of chambers — most new judges want everything on the record.” And one deputy public defender, Phoenix Streets, came away believing Busch had a “prosecution bent” after the judge sentenced his client to the maximum sentence — three years’ probation, plus fines and 20 days in the sheriff’s alternative work pro-gram — in a DUI case. The woman had a blood-alcohol level of .08 or .09 and was stopped after she ran a red light. But Streets’ appears to be a minority view. “He listens, he’s fair, he’s not emotional,” says defense attorney Joshua Dale. “He doesn’t have an agenda.”

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