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Name: Mary WissCourt: San Francisco SuperiorAppointed: May 2001Date of Birth: Aug. 27, 1951Law School: University of San FranciscoPrior Judicial Experience: Judge pro temSan Francisco Superior Court Judge Mary Wiss may be new to the bench, but she’s no pushover for lawyers arguing their motions.At a recent hearing on a defense attorney’s request to get a police informant’s name, Wiss was quick to make him justify his motion.“How does that give you a basis for attacking a warrant?” the judge asked.Deputy Public Defender Stephen Olmo replied that he needed to know the identity of a confidential informant to determine whether there was probable cause for a search warrant in a drug case.“I don’t see how this helps you,” the judge said, and denied Olmo’s motion.In an interview, Wiss said Olmo failed to meet the prerequisites necessary to reveal the informant’s identity.“There hadn’t been a sufficient basis for attacking the veracity of the informant,” the judge said, acknowledging that these are the day-to-day decisions she, a former medical practice lawyer, now has to learn to make in her misdemeanor court.On the bench just over a year, Wiss has settled into the Hall of Justice, but realizes she still has a lot to master.“I’m learning more about sentencing, which has some complicated aspects to it,” the judge said. She’s also trying to soak up the Penal Code quickly.“I would say that over the past year, it’s been helpful to start out with misdemeanors, and now I’m taking on some felonies and preliminary hearings,” she said.Attorneys who appear before her give Wiss favorable reviews for her quick study of criminal law and courteous courtroom demeanor.“Given the short amount of time she’s been on the bench, she seems to have a feel for what goes on in the courts,” said defense attorney Eric Safire.Assistant District Attorney Jean Kang said the judge not only does independent case research but double checks what lawyers present her.Defense attorney Lidia Stiglich called Wiss “sharp, polite and courteous,” but no pushover.“She has a very good way about her,” Stiglich said. “People might look and say she’s nice, and she’s easy. But she’s not easy.”The veteran defense attorney says the judge will listen, but don’t try to bowl her over with high-decibel rhetoric.“My impression of her is that there’s no correlation between how loud your voice is and what you get done,” Stiglich said. “She hears you and there is no need to really push and bully your way through.”The judge says the easiest way to lose on motions and objections in her court is rudeness.“You can be an ardent advocate without being vicious or nasty or underhanded,” she said. “I don’t think negative qualities get you anywhere in front of a jury, either.”Wiss keeps a big jug of red licorice and a bowl of candy on her desk, which help set a friendly tone in her chambers.“It’s disarming to go into her chambers,” said Public Defender-elect Jeff Adachi, who has a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense lawyer.But out in the courtroom, Adachi said, the judge focuses on substance rather than form when it comes to objections by opposing attorneys.“She tends to overrule technical objections, even if you’re correct,” he said. “She’s not a stickler for how you phrase the question.”Wiss says her medical malpractice and personal injury background, where she dealt with people who were harmed, taught her to respect those who appear before her in court.Several lawyers said she always addressed their clients by their names, and never as “the defendant.”“Judge Wiss will listen to what the defendant has to say and treat the defendant as a human being and not look past the defendant at his or her attorney,” said Patrick Gunn.Gunn, a civil attorney from Cooley Godward on loan as a prosecutor, described Wiss as ‘a defense-oriented judge,” which he said was common in new judges.“If you err in your rulings, you sure don’t want to trample on someone’s civil rights,” he said.Wiss agrees that those who appear before her “have constitutional rights and the court has an obligation to protect those rights.“I’m striving to learn all the nuances of that and want to make sure I can do that,” she said.“She balances the client’s rights versus the prosecution’s concern,” said Olmo, adding that he didn’t take it personally when the judge denied his discovery motion.An observation Wiss makes about her courtroom is the lack of support for defendants, who seldom see a friendly face in the gallery.“It’s startling to me how few family members come into court for hearings,” she said. “It’s rare to see. You can have 50 defendants in a day and not a single family member or friend.”But it also dismays her to see people “whose lives are really messed up . . . you can’t fix it � there’s a limit to what you can do in the criminal justice system.”

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