Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
AGE:55 COURT:Northern District of California LAW SCHOOL:University of San Francisco School of Law APPOINTED:1991, by President Bush PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE:Alameda County Superior Court, 1989-91 Saundra Brown Armstrong has a disarming demeanor for a cop. Or a former cop, at least. As sweet as the one-time Oakland Police Department officer comes off, though, defense attorneys say not to expect a spoonful of sugar when her rulings come down. “She’s conservative,” said one longtime defense attorney. Another said she was “an independent thinker, though not with a pro-defense orientation.” That doesn’t mean she’s going to railroad anyone. People who have appeared before her say she’ll let lawyers make their arguments, though it may take a supreme effort to get her to change her mind once it’s made up. There are exceptions. In 1998 she flip-flopped, reversing a previous ruling that illegal aliens weren’t subject to Fourth Amendment protections. And she has gone after the government in some very high-profile ways, once throwing out the fruits of a federal wiretap because it had only “conditional” authorization from the required Justice Department officials. She also ruled that former President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military was unconstitutional. The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overruled her. She presided over the case of a prominent Berkeley landlord now serving prison time in connection with an alleged scheme to import young girls to work for him, and, in some cases, have sex with him. Armstrong rejected a plea deal between Lakireddy Bali Reddy and the government as too lenient. Armstrong later recused herself from the remainder of the case. She got her law degree by going to classes at night at the University of San Francisco School of Law during her seven-year career as a police officer in Oakland. “I was exhausted most of the time, but law school was the first educational opportunity I had that I thoroughly enjoyed,” she said. Armstrong spent much of her career in the criminal justice area. She has worked as both a state and federal prosecutor, and once served as a consultant to the Senate Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice. She was commissioner of the U.S. Parole Commission and has also served as a vice chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The first President Bush nominated her to the Northern District bench after she had served two years on the Alameda County bench. She is one of the many Alameda County lawyers now on Bay Area benches who served under former District Attorney D. Lowell Jensen, now her colleague on the federal bench. Lawyers say Armstrong will let you argue a case. During one recent evidentiary hearing, there was a question on whether she had granted a Frankshearing, or the more routine motion to suppress. Despite her own belief that she hadn’t granted a Frankshearing, she seemed willing to hold one if the government and the defense attorney could agree to one. The hearing was continued on other matters. People consistently comment on Armstrong’s personality — she doesn’t appear to be the kind of judge who’ll beat up on lawyers. Anything but. “I think that she was very kind to both sides, but also kind of stuck to her guns,” said San Francisco solo Angela Bean, who argued a habeas corpuscase before her. “She made up her own mind about things.” One lawyer, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “You can get through to her if you are very careful in what you say and what you write and if you are persistent. Somebody might say something they consider to be a throwaway argument and off the argument goes in that direction.” But, the lawyer added, “You will get your chance to be heard.” Armstrong agrees with most of that. “When I make up my mind, it’s not an arbitrary experience. My decision is an informed decision based on the arguments that have been presented,” she said in reference to comments that she sticks to her guns. In civil cases, she will cancel oral arguments if she’s made up her mind on the briefs. “Lawyers should know that if I don’t take it off calendar it means I have questions that need to be addressed.” But, she added, she will keep the argument on calendar if the losing party wishes. “I generally will hold it.” Motions take on added weight in Armstrong’s courtroom, not only because she might rule based solely on the papers, but because even if an argument is scheduled, “My preference in oral argument is to stick to what arguments have been made in the papers.” Armstrong is also one of the more civic-minded federal judges going. The Oakland native heads the Northern District’s CARES committee (Community Access, Relations, Education and Service) and now that her youngest child is about to leave home, is interested in working for a crisis hotline or possibly volunteering as a counselor. “One of the things I look forward to is filling time with more philanthropic activities,” she said. “Until you just kind of get out of yourself and get into somebody else, you don’t realize how much you have to be thankful for.” You can order past judicial profiles of more than 100 Bay Area judges at www.therecorder.com/profiles.htmlor by calling 415-749-5523.

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?

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


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.