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COURT: San Francisco Superior APPOINTED: December 1989 DATE OF BIRTH: Dec. 20, 1939 LAW SCHOOL: Boalt Hall School of Law, 1978 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: None You can take a hit to your wallet if you don’t tailor your discovery motions before Commissioner Loretta Norris. “I really feel very strongly about boilerplate objections and general objections,” said the San Francisco Superior Court jurist. “They are not allowed under the law, and you’re very likely to be sanctioned if you use them.” Her propensity for such sanctions is one example attorneys give when they describe Norris as a tough, no-nonsense commissioner who doesn’t tolerate lawyers’ games. “I do think she tries very hard to be fair,” said Paul Perdue, a San Francisco trial lawyer who has appeared before Norris several times, though not in discovery. “On the other hand, I don’t think she suffers fools very gladly.” Norris doesn’t disagree with that characterization. “I think that lawyers are at their worst, probably, in discovery,” she said. “You get some very nasty tactics, tooth-and-nail behavior, and game playing.” She deals with attorney hostility by lecturing, she said. “I basically say, ‘This is not the way you should be behaving. Calm down.’” Some attorneys go so far as to describe Norris’ behavior as insulting and rude, but she also has her defenders who say her direct but courteous style is appropriate for a high-volume courtroom. “I don’t think she has a lot of patience for people that want to make things more complicated than they are. And if I were in that job, I wouldn’t either,” said J. Brian McCauley, a solo business and real estate attorney in San Francisco. “I can be impatient, but I don’t think I’m rude or insulting,” Norris said. Norris was appointed to the commissioner position in 1989. Before that, she spent five years as managing attorney of the S.F. office of Zurich-American Insurance Group and seven years as an associate at Carroll, Burdick & McDonough. She worked as an English teacher and a child welfare worker, among other jobs, before attending law school. For most of her first seven years as court commissioner, Norris was assigned to discovery. She then took on miscellaneous duties in civil court before returning to discovery earlier this year when Commissioner Richard Best retired. Attorneys who have appeared before Norris have several suggestions for staying on her good side. First, don’t wait to make an argument orally — put it in the papers. “Don’t depend on some kind of generic brief and then think that you’re going to be able to make some points at the hearing,” said David Russo, senior litigation attorney with Baughman & Wang in San Francisco. “It’s got to be in the papers, and clear.” And don’t repeat yourself in oral argument, he added. “She expects that if someone appears for oral argument, they have some new point to make or angle to express.” San Francisco solo Edward R. Taylor suggests being “politely aggressive,” though. He won his motion in front of Norris, but theorizes he didn’t get the attorneys fees he asked for in his paperwork because he didn’t repeat the request orally. The commissioner said she tells attorneys what she needs to know and generally prefers they not elaborate beyond what she asks for. “I’ve already read the papers, and I’m not likely to let them [give] extensive argument.” Attorneys also say Norris sticks to her guns. “Once she’s reached a decision on an issue, I got the impression it was hard to move her off of it,” said an associate from a large firm in San Francisco who appeared before Norris once, though the commissioner let the attorneys in that case argue without cutting them off. “Hopefully the tentative’s in your favor already.” San Francisco solo Anthony David said Norris is willing to change her mind if she’s convinced she’s wrong. And, “You know exactly where she’s coming from and exactly what you need to address in order to get her thinking differently.” For her part Norris said, “I don’t mean that you’ll never change [my] mind from a tentative ruling, but the odds are against you,” because she’s already read the papers and looked at the law. Indeed, several attorneys said Norris is very prepared. “We had probably four inches of stuff, and she seemed to have digested it and isolated the issues,” said McCauley, the S.F. solo. Norris estimated she hears 30 to 40 motions a week. Despite any criticism of her style, some attorneys see her as extremely professional. “Some lawyers, including myself, sometimes need to be cut off,” said Paul Utrecht, head of the Law Offices of Paul Utrecht in San Francisco. “When the judge gets it, the judge gets it.” 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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