X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
COURT: Santa Clara Superior APPOINTED: Feb. 1985 by Gov. Deukmejian, elevated by consolidation DATE OF BIRTH: April 12, 1951 LAW SCHOOL: Golden Gate University School of Law, 1975 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: None Judge Alfonso Fernandez knows how to keep his cool. So in the mental health and sexually violent predators calendar — where defendants are often acting out and talking back and jurors are struggling with intimate details — Fernandez’s calm persona can take the edge off a potentially volatile situation. “He has a wonderful demeanor,” said Santa Clara Deputy DA Dana Overstreet, who supervises the sexually violent predators unit. “Sometimes dealing with these people is very frustrating. They have significant mental health issues.” Overstreet said the judge is “sensitive to the fact that these defendants need to be treated a little differently. You have to go a little slower with them, explaining things multiple times and be sensitive. It takes a lot of time.” Fernandez handled criminal trials and preliminary examinations before moving to mental health, and attorneys describe him as a conscientious judge who likes to keep things businesslike but cordial. “He is patient and polite and demands the same of the attorneys in his courtroom. He is reasonable, fair, unbiased and he has his head and heart in the right place,” said Deputy DA Edward Fernandez. “He is — in the best sense of the phrase — a middle of the road judge.” Most say he’s fair, but some defense attorneys believe the former deputy DA can lean toward the prosecution and isn’t likely to make a decision that will rock the DA’s case. “I think he’s fair,” said Deputy Public Defender Beverly Chan. “He is open to arguments on both sides — but he may conclude more for the DA.” Fernandez said he’s heard some of the defense gripes, and it just comes with the territory. “When you do your job, the defense attorneys think you are too tough, and the DAs think you are too soft,” Fernandez said. “That’s part of the job. You have to realize you will not make everyone happy and you have to do what is right.” Christopher Arriola, a prosecutor and president of La Raza Lawyers of California, said the judge “has a good reputation among both the defense bar and prosecution. He has a lot of experience in the criminal field, is also active in the community and been a supporter of La Raza Lawyers and other bar associations.” Attorneys say Fernandez, who was moved to the mental health calendar last winter and will continue in 2003, has been a diligent student — reading up on the sexually violent predators law, mental competency hearings and how to handle and evaluate psychological evidence. The sexually violent predator law, passed in 1996, allows juries to keep convicted sexual offenders locked up in mental facilities after their sentence is completed if they are still deemed a risk by mental health experts. But offenders are guaranteed a new civil trial every two years to determine if they still pose a threat. The law surrounding these hearings is constantly evolving, and the hearings use elements from both criminal and civil procedures. “He had a good handle on it when he came in and he has read up on it and done his homework,” Overstreet said. “He keeps up on it.” Deputy DA Aaron Persky agrees. “The way a trial unfolds is very different. You have all this appellate litigation every week coming down the pike. The prosecution is allowed to call the respondent. It definitely is different,” Persky said. “He has done a good job in negotiating through that and figuring out what needs to be litigated.” Defendants aren’t the only ones who may need special consideration. Jury selection in sexual predator cases often means inquiring about a potential juror’s past abuse and sexual history. Fernandez, like previous judges who have handled the calendar, uses a juror questionnaire. Lawyers say Fernandez keeps jurors’ confidence by carefully handling jury selection and personal information jurors provide. With attorneys, Fernandez employs the same style. “He is fairly low key,” Persky said. “He likes to get people, when they can, to agree on stuff and reserve decisions for stuff where they really reach an impasse.” Fernandez also likes to do things by the book. “He’s very formal. He wants everything on the record and the client brought out even if it’s just a continuance,” said Chan. And like most judges, he’s a stickler for promptness. “He really does push the lawyers to get their witnesses there on time, and he is big on scheduling,” Persky said. “He used to have a saying: ‘Have your witnesses lined up like planes over LaGuardia because we don’t want to make [jurors] wait.’”

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.