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Court: Santa Clara County Superior CourtAppointed: 1990, by Gov. George DeukmejianDate of Birth: May 30, 1944 Previous Judicial Experience: None Law Degree: University of San Francisco School of Law, 1969 Trials are where Judge Diane Northway shines. The Santa Clara Superior Court judge understands criminal law and understands the impact her decisions have on defendants. But attorneys say Northway makes it clear that she’s the boss and has little tolerance for any perceived challenge to her authority. Northway, who currently supervises the Palo Alto courthouse, handles a mix of criminal calendars, misdemeanors and felony trials Northway did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. Attorneys who regularly appear in front of her say she’s smart and can be compassionate, but they are quick to add that Northway likes to be in control and doesn’t appreciate armchair quarterbacking from attorneys in her courtroom. “She really looks at the defendants who appear in her courtroom, and she seems to understand how much her decisions affect real people. I think that weighs on her and makes her a good judge. I think she is very compassionate,” said Daniel Barton, with Nolan, Armstrong & Barton in Palo Alto. “I think she is somebody who needs to have things done her way and will make that known to any attorney who appears before her regularly, whether you are a prosecutor or defense attorney.” Others describe her courtroom demeanor less diplomatically. “There’s a wanting to have every need met, wanting to snap her fingers and have lawyers appear,” one attorney said. Northway can also be hard on potential jurors, requiring those claiming hardship, medical problems or planned vacations to bring in written proof. Attorneys say Northway once made a well-known attorney bring in plane tickets before dismissing him from jury duty. Attorneys say while Northway, a former Palo Alto assistant city attorney, may lose her cool with attorneys who question her, her legal reasoning is sound. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys say she interprets the law fairly and makes sound decisions. “I find that she has always been attentive and reasonable and willing to listen to your positions. Those criteria are very important,” said Joseph Berger, a Palo Alto defense attorney. “I think she has a very good handle on the law.” “She’s smart, she’s bright,” said Deputy Alternate Public Defender Stephen Elrick. “She has been willing and able to and on occasion made tough controversial calls without concern for whose feathers they’ve ruffled.” One example is Northway’s rulings in the case of Peter Baez, founder of Santa Clara County’s first medical marijuana center. Northway dismissed Baez’s misdemeanor conviction after a high-profile prosecution. Baez is terminally ill with cancer and AIDS. His prosecution had also been tainted when an appeals court dismissed the original indictment against Baez because of irregularities with grand jury transcripts. While Northway takes trials very seriously, some complain that she doesn’t stay focused during other types of hearings. Attorneys say she’ll interrupt lawyers mid-sentence to address an attorney walking into the courtroom or to converse with her clerk about unrelated issues. Attorneys say it may reflect her dislike for calendar and other pretrial hearings. “I think she is somewhat easily distracted,” said one attorney. However, other attorneys defend Northway’s multitasking, saying she is very conscious of attorneys’ time. “When she interrupts hearings to do things, it’s because she sees someone else in the courtroom and wants to help facilitate their schedule,” Barton said. “She doesn’t want attorneys sitting around in her courtroom for an hour for something that will take five minutes.” Milford Reynolds, a solo practitioner in Sunnyvale, said, “I feel she has done the right thing by a number of my clients I’ve had in front of her.” Reynolds said Northway showed compassion toward one of his clients who was in the advanced stages of HIV and hepatitis C. Reynolds’ client was standing trial for felony drug and weapons possession charges when the client, too sick to continue, agreed in the middle of the trial to plead guilty. Northway delayed disposition and let the sick defendant remain out of custody for more than a year, Milford said. After disposition, when the sick defendant was sentenced to four years, Northway gave him 30 days to turn himself in. “The prosecution was not very happy about allowing him to remain out. The prosecutor thought the issue about his sickness was being exaggerated,” Reynolds said. “I thought she was very fair in dealing with him. She took into account that he was sick . . . Even though it was a state prison sentence, it was a very generous sentence.”

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