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Born: Jan. 10, 1947Appointed: November 5, 1996Previous work of note: Judge pro tem in S.F. Municipal Court, 1979-96Law degree: University of San Francisco School of Law (1973)Ask prosecutors and defense attorneys what it’s like to appear before San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kay Tsenin and the answer is that they get a fair shake and a friendly atmosphere to work in.That wasn’t necessarily the case a few years ago, when the civil litigator voted onto the bench in 1996 first took over a criminal courtroom.But, S.F. Assistant District Attorney Christine Pelosi says, “As a place to do business, it’s the nicest place in the Hall of Justice. She insists on civility.”Quite so, nodded defense attorney Peter Goodman, who has watched Tsenin mature as a judge. “I think she’s really mellowed,” he said. “She’s much more comfortable than before.”Tsenin may also be popular because she holds “Food Court” on Fridays. That’s when the judge brings dim sum, the district attorney fetches donuts and the public defender rolls in the bagels.Tsenin was elected to a six-year term in 1996, after a brutal three-way campaign against Deputy City Attorney Matthew Rothschild, who had the backing of the city’s Democratic Party establishment, and Deputy Public Defender Ronald Albers.Although elected to the municipal court, through court consolidation this year Tsenin became a superior court judge. But she still enjoys the misdemeanor action at Department 15 of the Hall of Justice.“It’s interesting watching lawyers practicing here go on to felony courts,” she said. “They take everything so personally” initially, but eventually learn not to.In an anonymous survey of attorneys last year by the San Francisco Examiner, Tsenin was characterized as unprepared and biased. Two defense attorneys, who asked for anonymity, said that although Tsenin’s heart was in the right place, her grasp of criminal law put her at the lower end of the learning curve.“She needs more years on the bench,” one lawyer said.Others who practice before her found few faults.“I think she’s a fair judge,” said prosecutor Sharon Reardon. “She’s the same with everyone.”Defense attorney Derek St. Pierre, who recently represented one of several animal rights activists charged with trespassing at the University of California-San Francisco medical research center, called Tsenin a thoughtful judge.“I think she is one of the few judges that listens to what everyone has to say,” St. Pierre said.As an example, both Reardon and St. Pierre pointed to a Tsenin ruling on a restraining order prosecutors sought to keep the animal rights demonstrators in check without abridging their First Amendment free speech rights.Tsenin ruled that the activists could protest on the sidewalk, but forbade them from going into the building.“If you enter that building, the district attorney’s office will file additional charges,” the judge warned. “I will revoke your OR [release on their own recognizance], and you will be in custody until trial.”Tsenin came to the bench after 13 years as a solo practitioner handling evictions and personal injury cases. Prior to that, she worked on similar cases for 10 years in the Law Offices of Dimitri Ilyin.She was born to Russian parents in Shanghai, China, in 1947. She later immigrated to the United States.Prosecutor Pelosi describes Tsenin’s bench philosophy concerning defendants as “lost souls whom you guide home She’s compassionate and wants to believe in people.”

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