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COURT:Santa Clara Superior ELECTED: March 7, 2000; appointed early by Gov. Davis DATE OF BIRTH: July 7, 1953 LAW SCHOOL: Southwestern University School of Law, 1980 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: none It’s a Wednesday afternoon, and Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Dolores Carr is meeting with divorcing parents to work out disputed custody arrangements. One couple in the midst of divorce is still living together in the family home with the two daughters and fighting about all of it. Carr listens for a while, and then lays it out: Someone is going to have to bite the bullet and move out, she tells them, adding that it won’t affect their custody rights in court. Another couple arrives; both parents are in court pro per. The father says his ex-wife is neglecting their 6-year-old son and wants additional visitation rights. Carr briskly figures out a holiday visitation arrangement and then sends the pair for a custody evaluation. The pair start bickering, but Carr puts a quick stop to that. “Don’t fight out your marriage in front of me,” the judge says. The next morning in chambers, Carr says she’s straightforward for a reason. “The service I provide is to tell them the truth,” Carr explains. “You see a lot of people in denial. When people are emotional, I think it’s important to be direct. Maybe it comes across as cold. That’s surprising to me. I am very empathic. I care about my cases.” Carr is a former prosecutor who was elected to the bench in 2000. She’s been in family court since then, and in January, will begin a second year as family court’s supervising judge. Talk to the family bar about Carr, and you’ll hear complaints that Carr’s approach can come across as callous. “I’ve had some real indigent clients who are going to live on the street because of her orders,” said one family law attorney. “I don’t think she has the kind of life experiences to bring to the job to make rulings.” “From the beginning, she has drawn a very negative response,” said another attorney. Others agree Carr isn’t warm and fuzzy, but say she’s diligent and a good administrator, pursuing resources for the family court where others have failed. Carr landed the court a $2.5 million grant from California’s tobacco settlement to help provide services for families with small children. “She works real hard and is real conscientious. What more can you ask for,” says San Jose family law attorney Jeffrey Greenberg. “Any family court judge is going to upset half the people. You can’t look at it as a popularity contest. She has a lot of integrity. This is difficult work here.” Kathryn Schlepphorst, chairwoman of Santa Clara’s family law executive committee, said Carr has approached the bar with a series of projects and initiatives, including unbundling family law services so attorneys can help litigants with portions of their cases. “She didn’t want the budget cuts to hurt family court,” Schlepphorst said. “She has been very supportive and active.” Carr says she’s enjoyed her time in family court, but she admits that she’s frustrated when the people in front of her won’t help themselves. Carr said she recalls one father entangled in a custody dispute saying, “Judge Carr, you don’t even know my kids.” Carr’s response: “You are totally right.” “I hope they all get what I’m doing,” Carr adds. “They don’t have to like it.” Greenberg said Carr is up front because she wants families to discuss problems and reach their own settlements. “Judges don’t want to tell people what to do and how to raise their kids. It’s the people who are so nuts,” Greenberg said. Marie Bechtel said Carr doesn’t let emotion cloud her judgment. “Carr is somewhat empathic, but is not someone to be swayed by emotion because there is emotions on both sides,” said Bechtel, of San Jose’s Hoover & Bechtel. “She tries very hard not to seem emotional. Maybe that’s why she seems a bit dismissive.” Greenberg said Carr understands that her job isn’t to be a counselor. “[Carr's] a judge. How can you do that halfway?” Greenberg said. “What do these people want? You can’t just be smiley face.”

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