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Born: March 3, 1946Appointed: 1990 by Gov. George DeukmejianPrevious Judicial Experience: NoneLaw degree: Santa Clara University School of LawSanta Clara Superior Court Judge Mary Jo Levinger keeps a stopwatch at her side and isn’t shy about putting it to use.“I’ve read everything when I come to court,” Levinger says, “and I tell the lawyers not to repeat themselves.”But as strict as she can be about the clock, attorneys don’t view an appearance before Levinger as an insurmountable hurdle.“Even if you are on the losing end, she won’t demean you,” said San Jose civil rights attorney Steven Cohn. “She lets you know it isn’t personal, and you can go out with your dignity.”But while lawyers give the judge high praise for her courtesy and professionalism, a sizeable percentage of lawyers also dinged her on last year’s Santa Clara County Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Survey, saying Levinger needed improvement in several areas, including dispute resolution and knowledge of the law.Of the attorneys who evaluated Levinger, only 25 percent gave her a rating of excellent for knowledge of law and procedure, while 17 percent felt she needed to improve in that category.Levinger also received some low numbers for her settlement conference abilities, with 38 percent of the attorneys who responded giving her a mark of excellent and 14 percent saying she needed improvement.But San Jose attorney Diane Deckard says she applauds Levinger for recognizing when there is an impasse rather than wasting the attorneys’ time.And Levinger is the first to admit resolution conferences aren’t her strong suit.She also defends her knowledge of the law.“I don’t shoot from the hip, I try to keep up with cases,” Levinger says.Civility is important to Levinger, who says she honed her style as a town attorney in Los Gatos, a position she held for seven years before her appointment to the Santa Clara County Superior Court in 1990.Prior to her post in Los Gatos, Levinger spent nine years in the San Jose city attorney’s office.The judge says she often uses humor to defuse tense situations. If an attorney goes on with a laundry list of demands, Levinger says she might ask, “Would you like fries with that?” And Levinger strives to make the jurors’ duties less arduous. Levinger says that when she tells a jury that a trial will end on a certain day, it does.“She doesn’t believe in down time,” says Craig Needham, a partner with San Jose’s Liccardo, Rossi, Sturges & McNeil.Levinger says she pauses when a pro per litigant appears before her, a frequent occurrence when she presides over family law matters. She advises the individual to stop by the bailiff’s desk and get a copy of a list of available legal resources that Levinger herself has compiled. “This is the people’s system,” Levinger said. “They shouldn’t be short-shrifted.”

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