Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
COURT: San Francisco Superior APPOINTED: Via court consolidation, Dec. 31, 1998. DATE OF BIRTH: Aug. 31, 1952 LAW SCHOOL: UCLA School of Law, 1978 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: Municipal court judge, 1991-1998; (presiding judge June 1, 1997-Dec. 31, 1998) Donna Little has a reputation as one of the tougher judges at San Francisco’s Hall of Justice. Lawyers describe her with a range of colorful adjectives, from candid, demanding and type-A, to abrasive, curt and intolerant of BS. “She has such a strong personality; people either like her or dislike her,” said Phoenix Streets, a deputy public defender in Little’s preliminary hearing department. He describes her as “brash, but friendly.” “I tell it like I see it,” Little said. “Some people like that style more than others.” “She is direct and upfront and lets you know where you stand,” said Deputy Public Defender Susan Leff. “I like being in her department, but I’m very direct.” Another defense lawyer, who asked not to be named, said, “She’s not patient.” On the prosecution side, Assistant DA John Delgado calls Little “a wonderful preliminary hearing judge,” but says she can be harsh, especially on new lawyers. But Kia Harris-Birdsong, an assistant DA in the felony domestic violence unit, calls Little “an excellent judge for young attorneys to cut their teeth on,” because unlike some judges she routinely explains the legal reasoning behind her rulings. During a recent hearing, the judge responded to an objection from a public defender intern with a withering look. “[The prosecutor] can still ask that for the rest of the preliminary. Overruled.” But the judge’s tone softened when she rejected the intern’s motion to suppress. “I would agree with you” if the police officer had detained the defendant before spotting narcotics, Little said. “That’s not the way I heard the testimony. � I’m going to deny the motion. But you did a good job.” Some lawyers, adamant that Little can take it as well as she can dish it, say attorneys shouldn’t be afraid to speak up. “She barks at you, you bark back at her, and you’re not likely to get in trouble,” said Ian Loveseth, a San Francisco solo. “She’s got a thick skin.” Little’s also known among some defense lawyers as a hard-liner on bail, particularly when it comes to accused drug dealers from out of town. But other attorneys argue she isn’t so tough on that issue compared to judges outside San Francisco. “It’s rare that [Little] issues a low bail, it’s rare that she ORs people,” said Streets, the deputy public defender. Defense attorney Stuart Hanlon rates Little “one of the better judges” at the Hall of Justice, but criticizes what he says appears to be an across-the-board approach to bail. “She’s fair. She’s intelligent. I’ve seen her be compassionate,” said Hanlon, of Tamburello & Hanlon. But “in general she’s not reducing the bail schedule,” he added. “In some cases that’s appropriate, and in other cases it’s not.” Some lawyers also said defendants from outside San Francisco accused of selling drugs in the city can expect high bail. “One of her issues is people who come from Oakland and sell dope,” said Assistant DA Robert Roland. He notes that it’s more difficult to get out-of-town defendants back to court. Little insists she doesn’t take an across-the-board approach to bail or OR. “Every case is different,” she said. “The bail schedule is � a guideline for the sheriff’s department, something that doesn’t take into account the defendant’s history, or the facts of the case.” Public safety is one of the primary factors in felony cases, along with others such as a defendant’s contacts in the community, Little said. “If somebody’s into the community for the purpose of selling drugs, that’s something I might consider.” Joseph O’Sullivan advises fellow defense lawyers to ask for a formal bail hearing if they’re unhappy. “She’ll take your motion and listen. She’s been very fair to me.” Before becoming a judge, Little worked two stints as a research attorney at the Second District Court of Appeal, for now-retired Justices Macklin Fleming and Edwin Beach, and practiced real estate law in Los Angeles. She then moved on to sit on the state Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board in San Francisco, a judicial body that reviews appeals of decisions by administrative law judges. Little has taken turns in criminal and civil courtrooms, but she has repeatedly requested preliminary hearing departments, she said. “I like the way they move fast.” At times Little talks so fast from the bench she sounds like she’s reading legal disclaimers at the end of a commercial. “She speaks quickly and she moves quickly,” said one defense attorney. “For some lawyers that’s not pleasing.” But prosecutor Jerry Coleman, who supervises the DA’s preliminary hearings unit, appreciates Little’s speed. “It gets the cases done. We have 400 cases a month in the preliminary hearing unit. � She is one of the most efficient judges that we have.” After several years on the S.F. bench, Little worked to set up the city’s domestic violence court, which went into effect on her first day as presiding judge of the municipal court in 1997, she said. “There’s a soft side to her, too,” said Judge Julie Tang, the first jurist Little assigned to the domestic violence court. “Maybe she doesn’t show it too often.”

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.