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A few phone calls is all it would have taken for indicted Santa Clara Superior Court Judge William Danser to transfer traffic tickets and other cases to his courtroom. In Santa Clara, the largest of the Bay Area courts, judges and even court clerks can transfer files informally, usually with no questions asked. That would be tough to do in San Francisco or Alameda counties, according to their presiding judges. Judges there can’t transfer to themselves cases of any kind. But in Santa Clara, the system is so informal that Judge Douglas Southard shipped defendant Anna Keane’s DUI case to Danser in October 2002 after finding a handwritten note requesting a transfer. Santa Clara judges say that’s just how their system works. The presiding judge, Thomas Hansen, said in February that he would be looking at the transfer protocol, but judges say that apparently hasn’t happened. Danser faces felony conspiracy and misdemeanor obstruction of justice charges for allegedly dismissing 20 traffic tickets and doling out lenient sentences in a pair of DUIs. Hansen didn’t return phone calls for this story, but explained the court’s transfer policy through a court spokeswoman: “There is no formal policy re: intracourt transfer of files,” spokeswoman Debra Hodges said in an e-mail. “It usually occurs when a judge has a matter before him/her and learns that there are other similar pending matters” for the defendant or party in the court system. “This transfer of files may occur at the discretion of a judge, either by request of counsel or by the court’s own motion upon learning of additional matters.” In the Bay Area’s two other large counties, transfer policies are much more restrictive. “We have a totally different system,” said San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Donna Hitchens. “No case gets transferred unless it’s done by the presiding judge, or in criminal court, the supervising criminal judge, or in the uniform family court, the supervising judge there. Those are the only three people who can transfer cases.” Hitchens said criminal charges with the same defendant are automatically sent to the same judge. When a judge is challenged by attorneys or recuses himself, the case is sent back to supervising judges. “The judges do not reassign their own cases,” Hitchens said. “Calendar management and the ability to avoid any appearance of impropriety, in my opinion, is best served by having those decisions made by the judicial officer responsible for the division.” As for judges transferring traffic tickets from the two commissioners assigned to traffic court, Hitchens said that it “never happens.” “If one commissioner gets a 170.5, it goes to the other one. It’s never reassigned. They are all handled by the traffic commissioners.” Alameda County Superior Court Presiding Judge Harry Sheppard said if a judge is recused, the case returns to him for reassignment. Sheppard said a judge may pass a case off to a neighboring judge if, for instance, there’s a conflict. But judges can’t ask for cases to be transferred to them. “I have never known it to happen,” Sheppard said. “It would raise a flag for me. I would be suspicious of it.” And he would report it. “The presiding judge has a duty to report any misconduct,” he said. “Every judge has a duty to report misconduct.” According to the indictment, Danser transferred and dismissed tickets for San Jose Sharks players and others during a two-year period. His woes didn’t begin until January, when he sent a letter on court stationery to Los Gatos Police Chief Scott Seaman ordering the dismissal of a pair of parking tickets issued to his son. Seaman refused and called District Attorney George Kennedy. When that news broke, Danser said he had reported himself to the Commission on Judicial Performance. The commission also looked into prosecutors’ complaints that Danser transferred Keane’s DUI case to himself and gave her a no-jail sentence. Kennedy said last week that the commission referred the findings of its investigation to him, leading to the grand jury indictment.

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