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Throughout this election season, The Recorder will be giving judicial candidates in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties an opportunity to speak to our readers in their own voices. Last week, the four candidates for Alameda County Superior Court spoke at a forum sponsored by the Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club and moderated by Recorder Editor in Chief Scott Graham. The following is Part 2 of the forum. The contenders are former State Bar Court Presiding Judge Lise Pearlman, former Alameda County Bar Association President G. Judson Scott Jr., Court Commissioner Trina Thompson Stanley and Deputy State Public Defender Michael Goldstein. Recorder: This question is about civil law. What experience can each of you point to that would prepare you for acting as a settlement judge if you were assigned to a civil department? Pearlman: I have 13 years of experience as a civil litigator [in addition to my work] at the State Bar Court. In the last several years I’ve been a mediator and an arbitrator, so that’s substantial experience doing that. I have a lot of training — I’ve taken 40 hours of commercial mediation training. So I feel very comfortable in that setting. Scott: This is a great question for me. I’m glad you asked it. I have 26 years of experience as a litigator. I served for a long time as a settlement commissioner and also served as a mediator. And the interesting thing is that most of the cases in which I am engaged settle. So I think I would be exceptional at that. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s one of my greatest strengths as a litigator. Not only as a trial lawyer, but the ability to get cases settled. So that would be right up my alley and I’d love to have the opportunity to do it. Stanley: With regard to my experience, as you all know, I had enormous experience as a criminal defense attorney. But I also ran my own practice for 10 years and had to make business decisions on a daily basis. [I] have also sat as a commissioner now and have to ferret out information in the trial court, in which I sit as the trier of fact as well as the trier of law, and determining what law applies to the facts that are before me. So in that sense I feel that I have acquired the skills that are transferable to the civil arena in being able to ferret out those issues, and to assist in mediation. Likewise, I’m the mother of a 3-year-old and a 16-year-old, and the 16-year-old I have to mediate with on a daily basis. So I do think that I have the skills that are needed. I’ve done a lot of work within the community. [I've worked] along with Jud Scott with the Alameda County Bar Association, of which I’ve had to play a number of roles and ferret out a number of issues. And sometimes that means coming to a decision of which you have to mediate a lot of different interests. So I’ve had that experience, although not in a formal capacity…. Goldstein: If you read my letter to the bar association, you saw that I’m actually uncomfortable with the right-versus-wrong, one-side’s-all-good-one-side’s-all-bad paradigm on which litigation is based. I love to mediate. I’m a volunteer mediator with Oakland’s victim-offender reconciliation program. I’ve had — I’ll see your 40 hours training and raise you 80 — in advanced mediation training. People mean different things by mediation. I just read an interesting story about how the Microsoft mediation failed because it was conducted in the traditional way of an experienced judge going back and forth between the sides and keeping them apart. The model in which I’ve been trained, and which really fits my propensities and what I was doing when I was doing couples counseling, is face-to-face, let people see themselves, each other, as human beings. You begin to build the trust, begin to clear away some of the irrational, emotional obstacles that get in the way of people doing what’s in their best interests and seeing creative solutions, and helping to bring that about. I’d love to do that, and I think I can do it well. Recorder: The next question is about court administration. The California Judicial Council recently passed a resolution that urged all superior courts to consider some factors other than seniority in determining judicial assignments. The concern apparently is that if new judges are stuck with unappealing assignments during their first several years on the bench, highly qualified candidates may be discouraged from applying. Only one council member voted against the resolution, and that was a member from Alameda County. How would you have voted, and what if anything do you think needs to be done to further implement trial court unification in Alameda County? Scott: It’s interesting, if you look at other counties: Santa Clara, for example, has a system where you work your way up to the top of the list for seniority, and once you’ve been there for a term then you go back down to the bottom of the list, it rotates. I know the Alameda County system is based on seniority. But the judges I’ve talked to, they don’t seem to really have any problem with it, including the newer judges. Judge [David] Krashna’s here, he’d probably be able to answer the question better than I. But the circumstances of the people I’ve talked with [is] they don’t mind it all. In fact, I’ve talked with new Judge [Frank] Roesch, and he says that he actually likes the assignment where he’s at right now, which is considered one of the lesser ones [misdemeanors/limited jurisdiction civil trials], because it gives him great experience. So I’m not in a position to be able to criticize the current situation with Alameda County, because all of the judges I’ve talked to seem to like it. But there are obviously other models, like the Santa Clara County model. Stanley: I actually had the pleasure of attending our judicial luncheon where the assignments are given, and it was like watching Wheel of Fortune. And I sat and walked out just kind of stunned at how it worked. But even though it’s a seniority process, all of the judges had input on what their assignments were going to be. They had a chance to actually approach the presiding judge, from what I could tell, to get their assignments. And then the rotation, Wheel of Fortune thing that happened, people were throwing out numbers and I saw names go up on a board, and it all worked out and everybody was very happy with their assignments in the end. So it looked as though it were a system that works for our county, and one that brings about some camaraderie among the judges, because they are all participating, and they’re all conferring with each other, whose chambers are going to be near whose and that kind of thing. Goldstein: I wouldn’t try to fix something that isn’t broken, which is what two of the people who’ve addressed this issue have already told us is the case in Alameda County. I wonder if there isn’t a way to deal more flexibly with whatever issues there might be as far as judges’ assignments. In any organization, there are — sometimes [euphemisms] elude me — if there are crappy jobs, the way to enrich them is to look at it within the organization as a job enrichment problem, and are there some ways you can sort of mix and match these assignments, instead of having somebody do so many felony arraignments, or whatever it is. I would think if there are a few people who are unhappy, the more enlightened approach might be to deal with those as individual problems and see if there are flexible ways to work them out. … Pearlman: It does seem, though, that the Alameda County system is working partly for the Alameda County judges. But it is true that brand new judges tend to be put in unlawful detainer or various limited slots. And I think statewide, I would agree, I would [be] on the side that it should not be seniority-based. It should be based on merit and where you fit. That was something I learned a long time ago from my law firm. It used to be that the senior partners were the ones who ran the law firm in most law firms. Our law firm is different. It is merit-based. And I was chosen managing partner of that firm in 1984, when I’d only been a partner four years. And it was the first time in the state of California that a woman led an established law firm. And I was grateful for that opportunity, and I think my partners really appreciated my input. When I was at the State Bar Court, I was in charge of 100 staff people and a total of nine judges, and we did a lot of what we did by consensus. So I think you can work that way, and you can accomplish a lot, but I think there needs to be the flexibility of not being [strictly] a seniority system. Recorder: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the East Bay courts and judiciary? Stanley: The biggest challenge that I see right now is just making it user friendly and accessible to everybody that needs to come to the courts. They are making improvements as far as making it accessible for those people who have disabilities. We have people who come into my courtroom where they’re hearing impaired, we’re trying to make sure that they have the proper equipment so that they can participate in the proceedings. There’s a very strong need for interpreters. And so there’s a lot of effort being made. Also at the main courthouse I notice that they’ve now started having the information areas so that people can find out where it is they need to go, where they can get the actual assistance that they need. And that is important because we are serving the public. We are not serving the attorneys — no offense — and we’re not serving the people who house the courthouses. We’re serving the public. And so to see that the courts are being more sensitive to the needs of the citizens who actually come and use our facilities, and who have matters before us of which they are very overwhelmed when they walk in, is something I find a great deal of relief in. I’m watching the process evolve and it’s a difficult one, because we only have limited resources available to us, and I can see that people are being more creative in creating more resources and looking outside of the box and finding out what other areas they can pursue. Goldstein: I don’t have a lot to add to what Trina said, which I think was a good answer. Thinking of accessibility in some of its other senses, and this goes to the legal system as a whole and not just our courts in this county, one is I’d really like to see a movement in society to — an increasing movement — to demystify the law. From the adoption of plain English jury instructions to the insistence by all of us in using plain English [in] documents to the extent that we can. And supporting measures to give people who have serious disputes that don’t rise to the level where they can afford to hire one of us, a member of the guild, to represent them. Some way that they can get dispute resolution services from the courts. Pearlman: I agree with both of them as to what the most important issue is, which is access to justice and having user-friendly courts. The difference among us is how much work I’ve done in this area. I’ve been working on it for 30 years. The current projects I’m working on right now, one of them is guidelines for pro per litigants, so that they know their way around the courthouse, know how to get access to legal support if they need it, and law libraries. … I’m also working on children’s waiting rooms in the courts for witnesses who bring small children. We haven’t had one — we’ve been trying for 15 years. I think we’re going to finally make it happen. Those are major issues that I’m working on. I co-authored a book of jury instructions in plain English 15 years before the state court organized a task force to do the same thing more broadly. These are issues I care deeply about and will continue to work on. In one other area in terms of making it user friendly that’s been brought out recently, the gay community. The courts are not user friendly for domestic disputes for the gay community because they’re not handled by that calendar. There are various issues of sensitivity for different minorities that we need to work on. Scott: Your question was what is the biggest challenge that the court faces, and so I’d like to answer that question. You talk with anybody involved in court administration, they’ll tell you the biggest challenge is money, as it is with most organizations. The Alameda Count Superior Court needs money for the facilities issues we talked about before, to improve facilities. If you go and look around some of the back areas of the courts, you’ll be appalled at some of the things you see in the buildings. Those are the responsibility of the county of Alameda, and there has been inadequate funding for a long time. So they need money. They also need money for some of the programs. We talked about children’s waiting room. I was pleased that Lise – when I was president, Lise and I talked and she agreed to take that project on. It had been languishing for three years, and I was dissatisfied, and Lise and the Women Lawyers of Alameda County finally agreed to do that and we’re doing something with it. They’re looking for where they have space. There’s no space. So the bottom line is money is the biggest problem, the biggest challenge, it has been for years, probably will continue to be. The flip side of that is opportunity. The court is engaged in what is called community-focused court planning right now. The opportunity to be able to reach out into the community and to form partnerships with people in the community, citizens who have concerns about their courts, is a real opportunity.

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