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Court: Contra Costa Superior CourtAppointed: 1998, by Gov. Pete Wilson Date of Birth: Oct. 17, 1960 Previous Judicial Experience: None Law Degree: Golden Gate University Defendants who are escorted into the “Box,” the transparent holding area in Department 4, quickly learn that they shouldn’t be fooled by Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Mary Ann O’Malley’s warm personality. On a recent afternoon, a man in the Box was riled up, and when his case was called, he loudly complained that he didn’t like his defense lawyer and that his “rights were being violated.” His protests were so loud, the usually incessant murmurs in the calendar department fell silent. All eyes were on O’Malley. She casually looked up from the mound of file folders on the bench and gave the man dressed in yellow jail garb her full attention. “I’d be happy to listen to your concerns, but we can’t do that right now,” she said in a polite, stern voice. She gave the man a new court date and told him she’d go over his case on that day. The inmate meekly thanked the judge and sat down. In Dept. 5, O’Malley handles the daily criminal calendar and herds as many as 160 matters through her courtroom each day. Lawyers rave that she has the right combination of cheer, control and legal acumen for the job. “She has a very comfortable courtroom for attorneys to appear in, said Thomas Kensok, a Contra Costa prosecutor who worked with O’Malley when she was a fellow deputy DA. “A much friendlier courtroom than other courtrooms,” he added. A defense attorney echoed the sentiment. “She is friendly and gracious to those who appear before her,” said Danville criminal defense attorney Michael Markowitz. Kensok and Markowitz once appeared before O’Malley for a series of gang cases. There were multiple defendants, victims and uncooperative witnesses. The gang statue and enhancements can be complicated, but O’Malley stayed on top of the legal nuances, the attorneys said. “She did her homework on the cases,” Kensok said. “She worked hard.” “You can’t come in and try to snow her,” Markowitz said. “She is bright.” She likes to be thorough,” the defense attorney observed. “She is a dot the ‘i’ cross the ‘t’ person, [rather] than to go by the seat of her pants.” Some lawyers have said the former DA has leaned toward the prosecution since she has taken up the gavel, said Christopher Bowen, a deputy public defender. But, he says, “I don’t see her as being a rubber stamp for the prosecutors’ office.” “She will not say ‘Mr. DA, what do want on this?’” Markowitz agreed. O’Malley said that she thinks her experience as a deputy DA may make it harder for prosecutors who come before her. “When I was a DA, I knew the value of a case,” she said. “I still know the value of a case.” O’Malley was appointed to the bench after spending most of her legal career in the Contra Costa County district attorney’s office. During her 13 years there, O’Malley says, she handled almost every possible assignment. It was time for the next step in her career, she said. “I had done everything that I wanted to do,” she said. The DA’s office is also where she met then-prosecutor William “Dan” O’Malley, who she later married. O’Malley — whose father is William “Bill” O’Malley, a former judge and former Contra Costa district attorney — successfully ran for a spot on the Contra Costa bench in 2000. Her sister-in-law, Nancy O’Malley, is the chief assistant deputy DA in Alameda County. “We have worked together for most of our lives,” Judge Mary Ann O’Malley said of her husband, then laughs as she adds that she can’t believe the way it worked out — with both of them on the same bench. O’Malley says that she has few requirements for attorneys. “I am pretty easygoing,” she said. “I still remember what it’s like to be an attorney handling the big cases.” She does expect attorneys to be ready to go when they appear before her. O’Malley also wants lawyers to let her know well in advance if a motion is scheduled to be heard but isn’t going to happen. Often lawyers wait until the court date to let her know that things have changed, she said. “Sometimes they knew a week ago that the motion isn’t going to go and I stayed up all night reading,” she said. Although attorneys praise O’Malley’s deft touch on the criminal calendar, the judge — whose stint presiding over the calendar will probably end this winter — says she did not take it on willingly. Before she was assigned to the criminal calendar, she was happily handling felony trials, but would often sub for the judge who regularly handled the calendar. She suspects that some local lawyers suggested to the powers that be that she should do the criminal calendar full time. One day, O’Malley recalled, Presiding Judge Garrett Grant walked into her courtroom. “I asked him, ‘What are you doing here?’” she said. “He said, ‘You know why I am here,’” she remembered with a laugh.

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