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COURT:Santa Clara Superior DATE OF BIRTH:Oct. 3, 1951 LAW SCHOOL:Santa Clara University School of Law, 1976 APPOINTED:July 24, 1984, by Gov. Deukmejian, elevated by consolidation PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE:none Attorneys characterize Rise Jones Pichon as a “painfully thorough” judge who’s as dedicated to the perception of fairness as the actual employment of it in her Santa Clara courtroom. Pichon, a felony trial judge, often does her own research and is reputed to let attorneys speak their piece on motions and other litigated issues during trial. The skills seem to be a good match for Pichon’s most recent and time-consuming side job as chairwoman of an aggressive incarnation of the California Commission on Judicial Performance, which during the previous year disrobed two judges. But some attorneys — mainly prosecutors — say Pichon lets attorneys and defendants push matters too far, and her rulings and sentencings sometimes feel more like compromises between the prosecution and defense than the decisive deployment of justice. Attorneys say she often warns unruly defendants repeatedly, giving second, third and fourth chances — and that defense attorneys can push back on her initial sentencing inclinations. “She is polite, too polite,” said one attorney. “She is very conscious of ethics and professionalism, but she undercuts. She negotiates. She is trying to make people happy. If she had to sentence Charlie Manson, she would be like, ‘Mr. Manson, I am so sorry I have to be the one to sentence you, but my hands are tied here.’” But others say Pichon, a former deputy city attorney for nearly four years and a public defender for two years, is just more independent than many of the prosecutors turned judges now on the bench. “[Prosecutors] have a strong desire to see judges fall in line with their philosophy,” said defense attorney James Leininger. “They maybe like someone to shoot from the hip and give them what they like, but that’s too bad. It doesn’t work that way. She is very much in tune and very sensitive to the law and she does her best to enforce it the way she sees it. I have never found her to be pro-defense.” Leininger did agree that Pichon goes out of her way to be perceived as even-handed. “She is a very fair person. I think she bends over backwards to make things work,” he said. However, prosecutors willing to go on the record say she’s a quality judge whose “pushover” reputation could be courthouse myth rather than reality. “There are mixed reviews out there, but I think she tries to be fair,” said Deputy DA Charlotte Chang, who has conducted two trials in Pichon’s courtroom. “She is very conscientious. She is a hard worker . . . She does her own research and looks into cases.” And as for sentencing, Chang, who tried a sexual assault and an assault with great bodily injury case in Pichon’s courtroom, said the judge’s sentences were “right on.” “She followed the probation recommendations,” Chang said. Deputy PD Brian Matthews said he tried a child molest case with a lot of mitigating circumstances in which the judge went with the probation department’s recommendation of probation despite the DA’s push for a 10-year sentence. “The DA gave a tough pitch for a lot more prison time, but she stuck to her guns,” Matthews said. “She tries hard to do what’s right regardless of who disagrees with her. She has the courage to stand up to the district attorney’s office.” But Deputy PD Louella Tsai said Pichon is willing to be tough when it’s called for. “It’s the judge’s job to exercise discretion, and she does use her discretion,” Tsai said. And Tsai said Pichon also understands that lawyers have lives outside court. Tsai said Pichon gave her a half day off during a jury trial so she could take her only child to the first day of kindergarten. “She is pretty considerate about private needs,” Tsai said. “It was a big day in my family’s life, and she let me go.” Attorneys on both sides agree Pichon’s courtroom is not intimidating and that she does her homework. The Deukmejian appointee, who was elevated to superior court in 1998 by unification, is pleasant and doesn’t let temper tinge her decision-making. But there’s little question that Pichon has presided over an aggressive CJP. In the summer of 2002, the commission removed San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Michael Platt for fixing tickets. And in February, the commission removed Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bruce Van Voorhis for his behavior in the courtroom — making him the first judge in the state to lose his bench seat over his demeanor. The California Supreme Court appointed Pichon to the CJP in 1999 and reappointed her this month for a term ending in February 2007. Pichon was unavailable for interviews, but her fellow commissioners describe the same strengths that attorneys praise. “She is a thoughtful, intelligent and highly regarded chair. She exercises superb judgment in the way she manages the commission,” said fellow CJP member and L.A. attorney Marshall Grossman. “She brings a balance and reasonable view to the matters that come before the commission.” Grossman said Pichon is masterful at acknowledging and folding in minority views into the debates, describing her as a “consensus builder.” 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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