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Born: 1960Appointed: In 1997 by Gov. Pete WilsonPrevious Judicial Experience: Santa Clara County Municipal CourtLaw degree: Hastings College of the Law, 1988Formality isn’t just an extension of Judge Thang Nguyen Barrett’s personal style — it is an expression of his judicial philosophy.The judge’s manner doesn’t change off the bench, either. Barrett said that even in his chambers, he addresses all attorneys by their last names.“I think it is good to set boundaries,” Barrett said. “It lets everyone know they are to observe the protocol of the courtroom.”“I like to create a formal atmosphere because it is important for witnesses, defendants and victims,” Barrett adds. “We are dealing with people’s lives.”Deputy District Attorney Lynn Knapp says Barrett’s courtroom stands out because other judges in Santa Clara County Superior Court tend to run more relaxed departments.“He is a stickler for proper procedure,” Knapp says, “which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”Barrett’s current assignment is felony preliminary examinations. It is a nice change, said Barrett, from the high volume of cases on the misdemeanor pretrial calendar, his most recent assignment.Despite the fact Barrett spent eight years in the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office, he shows no bias toward prosecutors in his rulings, says Deputy Public Defender Miguel Rodriguez. “A good prosecutor sees both sides of the case,” Barrett explains. “As a DA, I always appreciated how difficult the job of a defense attorney is.”In fact, while at Hastings, Barrett interned for the public defender’s offices in Contra Costa and Orange counties.He also worked as a research attorney for the superior courts in Santa Clara and San Francisco counties after law school.“I have deep respect for all sides of the law,” Barrett says.Barrett also demonstrates respect for everyone who appears in his courtroom, including the defendants, Rodriguez says.“Sometimes the court can feel like an assembly line full of cases,” Rodriguez says, “but Judge Barrett treats everyone individually — he sees every case for what it is.”Barrett says he lets attorneys know what he bases his rulings on so they know he isn’t being arbitrary in his decision-making.“I don’t leave his department second-guessing myself,” Rodriguez says. “He speaks his mind, and I really respect that.” Rodriguez said he can count on Barrett to rule according to the law. Barrett was only 36 when he was named to the municipal court bench in 1997. Following reunification in 1998, Barrett was reelected to the superior court that same year.“I still have a lot to learn,” Barrett says. “I am a work in progress.”Until recently, when Gov. Davis appointed Nho Trong Nguyen to the Orange County Superior Court, Barrett was the only Vietnamese-American to serve on California’s trial courts.The distinction has been both an honor and a huge responsibility, Barrett says. When he was appointed to the bench by Gov. Wilson, many Vietnamese celebrated the achievement not for Barrett’s sake, but for the sake of their American dream, he says.“This is what it is all about,” says Barrett, “this is why they come over on rafts and do everything that they do to get here.”Barrett was born in Vietnam. He spent several early years living in Laos because his father was a ranking official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and general consul to Laos.After his parents’ divorce and his father’s death, Barrett’s mother remarried Lt. Col. Robert Barrett, who was stationed with NATO in Belgium. Thang Barrett and his siblings took their stepfather’s name after he adopted them. After a stay in Germany when Lt. Col. Barrett was transferred, the family moved to Virginia when Thang Barrett was 17.“The question people always ask me is how I got my last name,” Barrett says with a chuckle, “I tell them it is an ancient Vietnamese name.”

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