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Judge Leslie Landau’s first week on the Contra Costa County bench was harried. One Wednesday morning in early December, she slogged through a packed morning calendar while two of the three other courthouse judges were out. The third judge, she told attorneys, was in trial. At one point the former Bingham McCutchen partner coolly made a ruling during a preliminary hearing. Later, she huddled with staff to make sure she directed a defendant to the right program. “I’m sorry,” she explained to the man. “I am new in Pittsburg.” Landau is one of eight new Contra Costa County judges to receive gavels in the past two years, the 33-judge court’s largest influx of new blood in recent memory. More than a quarter of the county’s judges have had their robes for less than three years. Starting this month, judges who’ve been on the bench for just one year will be supervising the region’s busiest courthouses. “In my memory, there have never been more new judges,” said Presiding Judge Laurel Brady, who was first appointed to the bench in 1996. All of the newcomers face steep learning curves, especially the civil law experts, many of whom are tackling heavy criminal calendars. This year’s freshman class of Gov. Gray Davis appointees includes Judge Landau; Barry Goode, Davis’ legal affairs secretary; Nancy Davis Stark, an ex-Alameda County prosecutor; and Jill Fannin, a former JAMS neutral. Several other new judges took office in 2002. Gov. Davis tapped John Sugiyama, chief counsel of the California Department of Corrections; Walnut Creek civil attorney Barry Baskin; and former federal prosecutor Theresa Canepa. Cheryl Mills, a Walnut Creek civil attorney, was elected to the bench in 2002 and began serving in 2003. The judges are handling misdemeanor criminal calendars and some felony matters such as preliminary hearings. Baskin is supervising the Richmond courthouse, and Canepa is supervising the Pittsburg courthouse. Several factors have boosted the number of new judges in Contra Costa. A few jurists have left over the past few years, including Judges James Trembath, Douglas Cunningham, Michael Coleman and Walter Rogers . Other positions opened up when Judge Maria Rivera was elevated to the First District Court of Appeal in January 2002 and Walnut Creek Judge Bruce Van Voorhis was removed from office for misconduct in February 2003. Yet another vacancy opened up in late December when Pittsburg Judge John Allen retired. “The word ‘new’ has taken on new meaning. People who have a year’s experience are veterans,” Brady said. The court has taken several strides to smooth the transition for rookie jurists, the PJ said. All of the new judges have a least one assigned mentor �� many have two. In addition to the voluminous training manuals and guides they get from the Center for Judicial Education and Research, the Contra Costa court also gives the judges a starter binder to guide them through their first year. Brady said she made sure that all of the judges were able to observe court sessions before their first day on the bench. “It was something that I was not able to do before I took the bench,” Brady recalled. Even with all that preparation, new judges often must grapple with unfamiliar terrain, judges and attorneys say. That is especially true for career civil practitioners who come to the bench –� in Contra Costa County, most new judges are first assigned to high-volume criminal calendars in Richmond or Pittsburg. Colin Cooper, a Berkeley criminal defense attorney, said he’s had mixed experiences with the new judges. While he thought some of them were too conservative — under Davis, he says, “you had to be a conservative Democrat to be appointed” — he called Judge Fannin “smart and fair.” Bruce Flynn, who supervises the deputy district attorneys in Richmond and Pittsburg, said he was pleased with the new judges. “We have brand new attorneys going before brand new judges. From what I’ve seen, they’re doing a very good job of it.” The new judges say that they are ready for the challenges of their new posts. One noted that Contra Costa has benefited from high-caliber judicial picks. “They have come from a strong background,” said Baskin, noting that Stark was an Alameda County prosecutor for many years and Goode was a Davis administration legal expert. Baskin, a 2002 appointee, says he is at ease with his leadership role even though he has just one year of judicial leadership under his belt. “I am acclimated to a point where I can be a good supervisor,” said Baskin, who plans to introduce a master calendar system to the Richmond courthouse. Another 2002 appointee, Judge Sugiyama, said that he has greatly benefited from advice from his bench mentors, Judges Joyce Cram and Joni Hiramoto. “I was impressed with the collegiality.”

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