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Born: Aug. 5, 1939Appointed: June 2, 1992Previous work of note: San Francisco Municipal CourtLaw degree: Stanford Law SchoolSan Francisco Superior Court Judge Jerome Benson got what those who appear before him ask for: a second chance.In January 1990, Benson was appointed to the superior court by former Gov. George Deukmejian. Six months later, he was defeated at an election by insurgent Donna Hitchens.Six months later, the governor gave him another shot by appointing Benson to the municipal court.“I did get a second chance, and I’m trying to make the best of it,” the judge said recently in an interview.At age 60 with 10 years of judicial experience, Benson said he holds no ill will toward Hitchens, who continues to sit on the same bench with him.“There’s no grudge,” he said.Since his defeat, Benson has regularly attended the annual dinners of Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, the minority bar association for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender lawyers. Hitchens is one of BALIF’s founding members.Defense attorney Joseph Morehead said that Benson’s 23-year career as a San Francisco prosecutor perhaps failed to properly prepare him for the bench. He suggested it contributed to Benson’s rejection at the polls.“When he was first appointed, he was somewhat detached, impersonal and aloof,” Morehead recalled. “Since he’s come back, he seems attentive to detail, polite to the defense and concerned.”Prosecutors say that appearing before Benson, who presides over long preliminary hearings or domestic violence trials, ensures fair treatment from a judge who believes courtesy is the cornerstone of the courtroom.“He’s extremely deliberate, careful and thoughtful,” Assistant District Attorney John Carbone said. “He doesn’t shoot from the hip.”Assistant DA Andrew Clark says appearing before Benson means “you’re going in front of a gentleman who is going to be thorough and will expect good preparation.”Even Deputy Public Defender Tracee Brooks characterizes Benson as “very gentlemanly,” but within certain boundaries.“He has a certain court etiquette,” Brooks said. “Let him finish talking before you start talking.”Brooks also said Benson often tips his hand to counsel in regards to how he probably will rule. She said attorneys must be attentive to catch the signs.“If you’re ahead, he’ll tell you and that means you should quit and not continue to argue if he’s going to rule in your favor,” she said. “He’s a pretty fair judge, especially to new attorneys.”Morehead’s advice to young lawyers appearing before Benson would be “don’t misrepresent the evidence.”“I would say know the law,” the veteran defense counsel added. “If you give him a good legal argument, he’ll listen to it.!… Although I don’t always agree with his rulings, they’re thoughtful.”But the issue that occupies the judge most is setting bail.“That surprised me,” Benson said. “Before I was on the bench I didn’t think I would be looking for information to determine what level of bail is appropriate. I’m not reluctant to set a high bail or grant O.R. [own recognizance]. I just want to get as much information as I can on the bail issue.”Benson added that his objective is “to set a realistic bail,” since the primary consideration for a judge is public safety. Before the law changed more than a decade ago, the chief concern was whether the defendant was a flight risk.

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