Court: Contra Costa Superior

Appointed: 1998, through trial court unification

Date Of Birth: Nov. 1, 1958

Law School: Golden Gate University School of Law, J.D. 1988.

Previous Judicial Experience: Contra Costa Municipal Court judge, Bay District. Appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1996.

Money has been on Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Laurel Brady’s mind a lot lately.

Once Brady becomes presiding judge in January, she and court leaders across the state will need to do more with less, thanks to state budget woes. The court is planning to operate with 7 percent less than the $43 million it was budgeted in fiscal year 2002-2003, according to Court Executive Officer Ken Torre.

“That will affect everything that we do,” explained Brady, who currently is assistant presiding judge.

Gone are the days when an attorney could push witness cross-examination into the lunch hour or ask a few questions after 5 p.m. When lawyers do that, it triggers overtime for the clerks and the court deputies. That’s a luxury that the court can’t afford — not even for high-profile trials, Brady said.

Brady, who has been on the bench for six years, has presided over her share of those cases, and many attorneys give her high marks. “Firm but fair” has become a safe, throwaway phrase that lawyers use to refer to judges. But clich� or not, attorneys say that that’s the best way to describe Brady.

“She is extremely fair,” said David Brown, a deputy district attorney. “She does her own research.” And even if the ruling doesn’t go Brown’s way, the prosecutor said, he understands her rationale.

Brady is an ex-prosecutor who follows the conservative trend of the Contra Costa bench, defense attorneys say. But both sides of the aisle credit Brady for making fearless decisions.

Brady drew attention — and criticism — when she ruled that Pittsburg police illegally searched the home of Mohammad Ismail Niaz without a warrant. The taxi cab driver was accused of stabbing his 24-year-old ex-girlfriend to death in 1998. Later, the First District Court of Appeal reversed her ruling, and the state Supreme Court denied review.

“If you have a tough issue and you feel that the law is on your side, [Brady's courtroom] is a good place to be,” said Deputy Public Defender Wendy Downing.

Brady says that it she had to do it again, she’d make the same call in the Niaz case.

“I made the decision that the evidence warranted,” she said. “The fact the court of appeal disagreed with me did not change that decision.”

Attorneys say Brady takes her job seriously. She carefully reads briefs and will query lawyers about the cases they have cited.

“She holds both sides to a high standard,” said Deputy DA Dana Filkowski-Calvert. “If you ask her for something, she will ask you, ‘What’s your authority for that, counsel?’ “

When Brady was handling the criminal calendar, she carefully reviewed any deals, said defense attorney Scott Woodall.

Last year Woodall represented one of two defendants accused of conning a 72-year-old man. Brady took both sides into chambers and scrutinized the agreement and reviewed the facts of the case before she approved it, the Pleasanton lawyer said.

“Some judges will just rubber-stamp whatever deal the DA works out,” he said.

Brady said she likes to review dispositions to make sure all legal requirements have been met before she signs.

“My name is on the bottom line,” she said.

Brady said she thinks many lawyers rely too heavily on canned briefs and don’t manage their time well when they have big caseloads.

“Trial briefs should be as comprehensive as possible,” she said. “I get a lot of boilerplate briefs.”

Other than that, she likes for attorneys to be courteous to one another and to come to court prepared and ready to go.

Brady came to the bench after spending most of her legal career as a prosecutor. She worked less than two years as a contract deputy DA in Contra Costa County. According to Brady, the county faced a budget crunch and could not afford to hire anyone from her class of contract attorneys, so she jumped to the Solano County district attorney’s office. Brady, whose last name then was Lindenbaum, worked there for six years. Gov. Pete Wilson appointed her to the Contra Costa County Municipal Court bench in 1996. She was elevated by trial court unification in 1998.

As her presiding judge term nears, Brady says that she wants to focus on giving residents the best service possible.

Some plans on the court’s wish list, such as expanding the domestic violence calendar that Judge Judy Craddick presides over, will have to wait. Even though the court faces tough financial times, Brady said she would like to do more to inform the public about what goes on inside the courthouse.

“The misperception about what people believe goes on in court is tremendous,” she said. “We could do a better job of going to churches and other places to explain what courts are about.”