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COURT: Santa Clara Superior APPOINTED: March 28, 1989, by Gov. Deukmejian DATE OF BIRTH: Feb. 25, 1937 LAW SCHOOL: Stanford Law School PRIOR JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: None SAN JOSE — Talk to attorneys about Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Alden Danner, and they tick off a virtual wish list of traits for a criminal trial court judge. He’s reasonable. He reads attorneys’ papers. Prosecutors and defense attorneys agree he’s fair. He’s even-tempered and he doesn’t commandeer cases from the trial attorneys. “He’s very conscientious. He’s very fair and he’s very even-keeled,” said Deputy DA Matthew Braker. “He doesn’t rush to judgment. He listens to both sides. He bases his decisions on what he thinks the law is.” Attorneys say he doesn’t have the reputation of an eccentric who has lots of idiosyncrasies or pet peeves for them to navigate. “He is absolutely one of the most normal people you will ever meet,” said Deputy DA Steven Fein. In fact, 12 out of 16 attorneys ranked his temperament as excellent on the Santa Clara County Bar Association’s most recent judicial survey. Three said it was very good and the other said satisfactory. “Trying a case in front of him is a pleasant experience — and there is a lot to be said about a judge not making it more difficult for you,” said Deputy DA David Boyd. But while attorneys say Danner might be one of the more pleasant and “normal” judges on the bench, some add that he can be slow. And sometimes he’s too nice, they say, allowing defendants to disrupt court and coddling attorneys who walk the fine line on court orders. “If a defendant acts out, he won’t make them shut up,” said one attorney. “He doesn’t take charge, which means when someone violates a court ruling — not the letter, but the spirit of it — there is no penalty for it.” But others say Danner just chooses not to rule by intimidation. “He doesn’t get angry to try to maintain control,” Boyd said. “He just tries to get people to move along.” Most agree that Danner, a former business and real estate lawyer who joined the bench in 1989, is a good role model on the bench. Defense attorneys say they like his department for trial because he is one of the few criminal trial judges without a prosecution background. “He’s no DA,” said San Jose criminal defense attorney Daniel Mayfield. “He has no ideological biases for Three Strikes.” Danner has served in both criminal and civil assignments and is currently handling felony trials. He agreed to serve as assistant presiding judge, meaning he’ll be elevated to PJ in 2005. Mayfield said Danner takes time to understand the underlying circumstances in a case and use his judicial discretion. “He likes to figure out why things happened,” Mayfield said. “He wants to know a person’s background and what they are like and how they got to be sitting in front of him.” But Mayfield said that doesn’t mean Danner is going to go light on sentences. “Judge Danner is not afraid to be a tough sentencer. You certainly would not call him a bleeding-heart liberal. But for a first-time offense with no prior criminal history, he is willing to listen to the defense. When you are back in front of him for the third or fourth time, and it’s a violent crime, he is as tough as anyone else in the building.” In one bizarre case, Mayfield represented a 68-year-old woman charged with felony assault for hitting an 88-year-old woman in a dispute over a handicapped parking spot. Danner sentenced the defendant to 200 hours of community service and ordered full restitution. Danner also has a reputation for reading papers submitted on motions and will take the time to look up cited cases. “He reads your papers and if something sounds a little squirrelly, he will go and read the whole case and figure it out,” Mayfield said. “If you have quoted part of a case out of context, he will walk back into chambers and he will point his finger at you and he’ll say, ‘Did you read how that case came out?’” Prosecutors agree Danner seems to rule based on his honest interpretation of the law, not biases, but say he can go light on sentences. After a jury convicted Rachel Ann Campagna of vehicular manslaughter for killing a pedestrian while driving drunk in 2002, Danner sentenced Campagna to a year in county jail with half of that served at home under electronic monitoring. “She killed someone because she was drinking,” said Boyd, who tried the case. “That was not an electronic monitoring case. It’s never an electronic case.” Even so, Boyd said, “I have never walked away feeling his decisions are unreasonable.” You can order past judicial profiles of more than 100 Bay Area judges at www.therecorder.com/profiles.html or by calling 415-749-5523.

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