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COURT:Contra Costa County Superior Court APPOINTED:June 1998, elevated by trial court unification DATE OF BIRTH:Feb. 28, 1961 LAW SCHOOL:Boalt Hall, 1987 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE:Municipal Court judge, Bay Judicial District, appointed in March 1998 Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Joni Hiramoto says that keeping your cool on the bench is important. She likened the skill to one emphasized in martial arts, where students are taught to stand to the side. Mentally, the judge says, she steps away when litigants and attorneys are fuming. “I let the emotion go past me,” said the judge, who is one of the instructors teaching ethics and fairness at orientation programs for new jurists. “Her temperament is her good feature,” said Freddie Martinez, a Contra Costa County prosecutor who appears before her often. “If she is angry, she doesn’t show it.” Hiramoto said she “doesn’t have any angles,” but she does expect the truth. “I expect people to be honest about their case,” said the judge, especially for continuances and settlement conferences. “People who are more honest about the strengths and weaknesses of their case get more credibility. Sometimes I can make accommodations that I would not otherwise.” The judge expects rookie attorneys to remember to bring a copy of a case to court if they are citing one that isn’t in their briefs. “I will challenge you to bring me your best cases,” she said. Martinez agreed. He advises other attorneys to be prepared on case law because the judge will read the cases that attorneys cite and question their analysis of those cases. Berkeley criminal defense attorney Colin Cooper said Hiramoto is a bit more deliberate than her colleagues on the bench — and that’s a quality he likes, because when judges make a quick judgment, he said, it’s usually not in favor of his clients. “I think that she is incredibly nice and efficient,” Cooper said. Hiramoto joined the Richmond courthouse’s municipal branch in 1998 a few months before trial court unification. Before that she was a branch chief at the Securities and Exchange Commission in San Francisco. After she graduated from Boalt Hall, Hiramoto spent five years at McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen. The judge is married to Douglass MacMaster, a Contra Costa prosecutor who has long sought a judicial appointment. Since taking the bench, Hiramoto has assumed other leadership positions. She was supervising judge of the Richmond courthouse in 2001, and she’s one of the driving forces behind the Richmond courts’ Domestic Violence Restraining Order Clinic, one of a handful of such programs in the state. “It’s my baby,” Hiramoto said. The clinic carefully guides residents through the process of obtaining civil restraining orders. Before the program was in place, petitioners — who are often women dealing with abusive relationships — faced many obstacles if they wanted to get a protective order, the judge said. The program is different from the domestic violence calendar that Judge Judy Craddick presides over in Martinez. Craddick hears a criminal calendar that tracks defendants on probation for domestic violence-related offenses. The clinic, which is linked to a restraining order calendar that Hiramoto hears, often deals with people before a crime happens. Through the program, residents can file for the restraining orders in Richmond instead of Martinez, and petitioners and respondents can get personalized help. Hiramoto said the program has helped increase awareness about family violence issues. Now local police encourage people to use the clinic, and the Richmond police department has organized a family services unit. In the first half of 2002, the program already had helped nearly 600 people. The clinic now awaits word on whether the matching fund grant that it gets from the State Bar will be renewed, Hiramoto said. Although some judges prefer to preside in Martinez, the political heart of the county’s court, Hiramoto said she feels a deep connection to West County. Hiramoto is linked in various ways to the area. She and her clerk, Tracey Zell-Bennett, were in the same graduating class at Kennedy High School, and Hiramoto’s children attend school near the courthouse where she works. Although Hiramoto’s always felt at home working in Richmond, it took time to evolve from being an advocate to being a judge, she said. On the bench, “you get emotional about different things,” she said. “You want the system to work fairly. You don’t want people to fall through the cracks.” You can order past judicial profiles of more than 100 Bay Area judges at www.therecorder.com/profiles.htmlor by calling 415-749-5523.

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