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Court: Contra Costa SuperiorAppointed: 1998, by Gov. Pete WilsonDate Of Birth: Sept. 30, 1949Law School: Catholic University School of Law, Washington, D.C.Previous Judicial Experience: None“Punctual” takes on a whole new meaning in Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Joyce Cram’s courtroom.“She is one of those judges that has an 8:30 a.m. calendar and she takes the bench at 8:30,” said prosecutor Stacey Grassini. “Not 9 or 9:30.”Some Bay Area judges choose to work in chambers or confer with attorneys at 8:30 and take the bench 30 minutes or an hour later, attorneys say. If a lawyer strolls into Cram’s courtroom after 9 a.m., she’s already begun to tackle the case files stacked on the bench.Recently, a lawyer came in late and inquired about a case that she thought was far down the calendar.“I’m sorry for skipping ahead,” the deputy DA said.“No, we called it already,” Cram replied, smiling. “You’re not ahead.”Cram said that she comes in early to prepare so that she can get rolling at 8:30.“When lawyers know that they can depend on you to take the bench on time,” Cram said, “they can get done what they need to get done.”Assigned to a Martinez courtroom, Cram handles preliminary hearings, bail hearings and in-custody arraignments for felonies, among other things. On Fridays, she presides over family law cases and, occasionally, a few civil settlement conferences.Cram’s early mornings are part of her efficient approach to the bench, attorneys say. When she presides over prelims, Cram won’t let attorneys call several witnesses who will make similar testimony. She reads up on cases beforehand, so as a calendar judge Cram is decisive after attorneys have made their arguments.“She allows them to be heard, but she does not let them go on and on,” said prosecutor Jill Henderson.Although the judge can be quick on her feet, Cram is attentive during trials and longer proceedings, one lawyer said.“She can be persuaded by a client’s efforts to better him or herself,” said Terri Mockler, a veteran deputy public defender. “That carries a lot of weight with her.”That said, Cram does have a conservative streak, the defense attorney added.Cram rarely releases in-custody defendants on their own recognizance. After a jury convicts a defendant of a felony, Cram hands out tough sentences, Mockler said.“Some people say that they’re not understood or they don’t get enough leeway, but I appreciate her efficiency,” said Henderson, the prosecutor.Before she joined the bench, Cram was a civil litigator who specialized in insurance defense for San Francisco’s Low, Ball & Lynch for 16 years. For 10 of those years she was a partner and eventually opened Low, Ball’s Walnut Creek office. She left the firm in 1992 and lived in Europe for two years. When Cram returned to U.S. soil in 1994, she opened a private mediation practice. Gov. Pete Wilson appointed her to the bench in 1998.After assignments at the Richmond and Pittsburg branch courthouses, she now presides in Martinez.Cram says she’s a bit more formal than some judges. The judge uses “Mr.” and “Ms.” to address lawyers, but says that’s partially because she has trouble remembering names.“It has more to do with the respect for the system,” Cram said of her formality, “than that I get a kick out of having people stand up” when she takes the bench.Although she has a civil background, Cram said she is fascinated by criminal law and the efficient way cases are tried.Cram said her work as a mediator gave her an appetite for the bench.“I like to be at the resolution stage of people’s problems,” she said.Even when Cram hears the voluminous family law calendar, she reads up on the cases before she takes the bench, said Walnut Creek attorney Thomas Wolfrum.“You will hear probing and intelligent questions as if you are in the Court of Appeal,” he said.Once, Cram told two feuding litigants that she could begin a trial about their visitation dispute that day, said Walnut Creek attorney Suzanne Boucher.That shocked the clients, who knew that it was usually difficult to schedule a trial in family court. They hashed out a visitation schedule that same day.“She will cut through it all,” Boucher said.Cram said she likes lawyers who get to the point.“A lot of the pleadings that I see have boilerplate on what the law is,” she explained. “It’s not until page 12 of a 15-page brief do I find out what the point is.”The rest of her advice to lawyers is simple: Play nice with each other. Treat her staff well. Tell her what she needs to know to make a decision. Write persuasively.Lawyers can tell that Cram takes pride in her work, Grassini said.“You can tell that it’s more than just a job for her,” he said. “You can tell that she really likes her job.”

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