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Court: San Francisco SuperiorAppointed: October 2001Date of Birth: July 4, 1957Law School: UCLA School of LawPrior Judicial Experience: NoneSan Francisco Superior Court Judge Susan Breall gained a reputation as a tough and relentless prosecutor in her 17-year career.Now the tables have been turned: She’s seeing some of her own combative habits in the lawyers appearing before her.“I’m being cursed with everything I used to do as a young trial lawyer,” said the judge, who has been on the bench nine months. “It’s beginning to haunt me.”“I see qualities that I had that annoyed judges,” she added. “It’s sort of amusing when you come up against that now that you’re on the other side of the bench.”Breall has spent her brief judicial career in civil court, handling such matters as wrongful death, real estate and landlord-tenant cases.But that’s about to change as she has been reassigned to her old stomping grounds: criminal court at the Hall of Justice.Before her appointment to the bench, Breall was co-chief of the district attorney’s criminal division.She knows the personalities and idiosyncrasies of most criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors, which should work to her advantage in dealing with them. But judging a trial is a different story.“I never paid attention or scrutinized closely what judges did,” Breall said. “So going over to criminal is as new to me as it has been being here in civil.”While Breall hasn’t been a judge long enough to establish a firm reputation, early reviews are mixed.Attorney Christopher Ashworth said she let him try his case, but graded her as only “good enough” in knowledge of the Evidence Code.“The nuance of the Evidence Code is lost on most people,” said Ashworth, a partner in Silicon Valley Law Group. “She’s in the middle of the pack.”Attorney John Koeppel enjoyed Breall’s “very informal” way of running her courtroom. But he said she needs to gain more civil expertise.“I think she has to develop her civil law repertoire,” said Koeppel, a partner at Ropers, Majeski, Kohn & Bentley. “She admitted she has a way to go.”One task that no judge can escape is ruling on hearsay objections. Breall has her own spin — she says in civil court it’s more a lawyer’s job.“If an attorney is not going to object to his or her opponent laying the proper foundation, I will not make my own objection,” she said.“Moreover, if one attorney is not going to object when another is eliciting all sorts of hearsay, I’m going to allow it in a civil case, because there might be a strategy not to object,” the judge said.But she promises to be more diligent sitting in criminal court, where other issues are in play.“You have certain sua sponte obligations to make sure that the Evidence Code is being followed, so there’s no infringement on the rights of the defendant,” the judge said.Although she’s enthusiastic about her new job, Breall also recognizes it has a downside.As a “public figure,” she feels somewhat circumscribed in her activities, and she says she must remain vigilant about her companions.“Who you have lunch with may be a reflection on whether you are colluding with one side as opposed to the other side,” she said.As someone who was politically active as a lawyer, Breall says those activities are now history.“I was involved in all sorts of organizations,” she said, listing the National Women’s Political Caucus, the National Network for Battered Immigrant Women and the National Organization for Women among them.These groups may come before her in litigation, so as a judge she has to avoid even an appearance of a conflict or bias.Though, she added, “You can still be part of these organizations as long as your name or your capacity as a judge isn’t used to promote an organization.”Breall was known during her days as a prosecutor for her strong advocacy of women victims of domestic violence. She headed the DA office’s domestic abuse prosecution team.Attorney Lawrence Kern has a simple suggestion for Breall: She needs to regain her prosecutorial toughness on the bench.“She’s too nice,” said Kern of Kern, Noda, Devine & Segal. “She’s too accommodating.”Perhaps, said the judge, she still expects lawyers to know the boundaries of courtroom decorum.“I expect lawyers to be civil with each other,” she said. “I can’t say that all my years as a trial lawyer I was always that way. But I realize the enormous value that adds to a case.”

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