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COURT: San Francisco Superior APPOINTED: June 2001 DATE OF BIRTH: Jan. 21, 1950 LAW SCHOOL: Hastings College of the Law PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: San Francisco Superior Court pro tem commissioner, 1993-2001, Marin County Superior Court pro tem commissioner, 2000-01. Defense attorneys frequently describe Paul Slavit as an easygoing jurist. But that doesn’t mean the superior court commissioner is a pushover. John Viola, a defense attorney with the Coalition on Homelessness, started to say he had never seen Slavit lay into a lawyer, then reconsidered. He says he once saw Slavit threaten to sanction an attorney who asked for a continuance after an interpreter had come to the courtroom. “But other than that, I’ve never seen him rake anybody over the coals.” “The principal problem I had in that case was the request of a continuance at the last minute,” after an interpreter had arrived, the commissioner said. “Those interpreters cost the court money.” Traffic court rarely attracts much attention, yet lately Slavit’s been in the spotlight. He’s been mentioned in newspapers from the San Francisco Chronicle to the Los Angeles Times since early June, when roughly 2,300 war protestors facing infractions began appearing in his courtroom. He doesn’t seem concerned with the new scrutiny, just the mechanics. “It’s unique in the sense that we do have to manage 2,000 people and 2,000 cases” while respecting the right to a speedy trial, Slavit said. “It’s a logistical challenge.” On an average day, he estimates he has up to 150 cases on his traffic court calendar. Typically, they involve a pro per defendant, or just one lawyer, for the defense. On rare occasions a prosecutor might appear, as has happened with the protesters. Commissioner Catherine Lyons, who lobbied for Slavit to be hired as a full-time commissioner from the pro tem ranks, said he’s especially good at keeping pro per defendants “moving along” while making them feel heard and respected. The chance to deal with defendants one on one “kind of mirrors my law practice,” said Slavit, who often represented individuals and small businesses as a solo practitioner. “You see a lot of mundane issues” in traffic court, Viola said. “But he takes them all very seriously.” Several attorneys describe Slavit as particularly thoughtful and thorough. “He doesn’t make snap decisions on the bench,” said Michelle Thomson, an associate with the Law Offices of Douglas L. Rappaport. The word around the courthouse is that “he definitely researches his issues,” said Assistant District Attorney Michael Menesini. Bobbie Stein, one of the volunteer attorneys defending many of the protesters, said that when she filed a demurrer with an unusual argument, Slavit “clearly read my points and authorities, and he was thoughtful about it. I thought he asked me good questions.” The commissioner has also received good marks for fairness, both from defense attorneys on typical traffic court cases, and prosecutors and defenders in the rare cases where opposing attorneys argue before him. San Francisco solo Sherry Gendelman said he doesn’t come across as an advocate for police, unlike some traffic commissioners she’s encountered. And Thomson, who like Gendelman represents defendants who have challenged the city’s use of unmanned cameras to catch people running red lights, called Slavit “pretty even-handed with both sides.” Though the DA’s office ran into a setback recently with the protesters’ infraction cases, a prosecutor there said Slavit has been fair. Siding with Stein, he ruled the DA would have to file more than altered citations in many of those cases or he’d dismiss them. Prosecutors complied within the 10 days Slavit gave to amend. The DA’s office signaled Friday it may abandon the infractions cases altogether. Menesini moved to dismiss 407 of them, saying police were unable to establish the necessary facts to convict. “As other cases reach the judge they may well be dismissed also,” DA spokesman Mark MacNamara said in a statement. Some judges can be off in left or right field in a given case, Menesini said, but Slavit has been down the middle, “very Solomon-like.” In court, his down-the-middle approach keeps some attorneys guessing. “He’s poker-faced,” Viola said. “He doesn’t let off a lot about how he might rule on a case, or if he likes your argument or doesn’t like your argument, or if you’re going in the wrong direction.” “He doesn’t joke,” Viola added. “It takes awhile to warm up to him, and I’ve been appearing before him for two years.” Gendelman, on the other hand, said she’s “seen him tell a joke at least once a week.” Menesini said Slavit can seem standoffish or aloof in the courtroom, but in chambers, “he’s very approachable,” and a talented facilitator. Slavit kept one foot in civil practice while serving as a pro tem commissioner in small claims and traffic courts for more than seven years in San Francisco, and for a year in Marin. Now, besides traffic court, Slavit acts as bail commissioner two mornings a week and presides over a welfare fraud diversion calendar twice a month. In the evenings, he reviews recommendations to grant supervised release to misdemeanor defendants. Noting the variety, Slavit says he’s “really enjoying” his job and doesn’t pine for a judge’s seat. “I don’t have any plans to submit my name.” 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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