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COURT: Santa Clara County Superior ELECTED: Nov. 8, 1994 DATE OF BIRTH: Dec. 16, 1945 LAW SCHOOL: University of San Francisco, 1975 Previous Judicial Experience: Santa Clara County Municipal Court, 1986 to 1994 SAN JOSE — Lawyers say Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Rene Navarro offers a friendly forum to try a case. But defense attorneys think he’s sometimes a little too friendly to the prosecution. That’s why Deputy Public Defender Bar-bara Fargo filed a motion to bounce Navarro off a multiple-defendant murder case a year ago, calling his evidentiary rulings “very bad” in another murder case. “His rulings were found to be erroneous,” Fargo said, referring to the case of Timothy Parle, who was convicted of first-degree murder in Navarro’s courtroom. In 2002, a federal judge granted a habeas corpus petition and threw out the conviction, saying Navarro had erred when he allowed prosecutors to read to the jury parts of the victim’s diary about the couple’s tempestuous marriage. Other defense attorneys agree he can be tough on evidentiary rulings and can have a heavy hand when sentencing. But they say they feel comfortable trying a case in his court. Navarro’s not regularly bounced. “I don’t think Navarro is particularly favored by the defense bar. But I know he is open and movable,” said Deputy Alternate Defender John Sullivan, who just finished back-to-back trials in Navarro’s courtroom. “I get treated well up there. In the end, a lot of it’s personality.” Navarro has cut some defendants big breaks. In 2002, at the recommendation of prosecutors, he sentenced to probation a young father whose baby had died after being left alone in a hot car. Last December, he released a cancer-stricken woman who was serving a six-year prison sentence for drug possession. Justice Now’s Cynthia Chandler represented the woman in a compassionate release motion. “I thought it was a fairly harsh sentence for someone who was not in possession of that much drugs,” Chandler said. “He did in fact sign off on [the release.] We were extremely appreciative of it.” Prosecutors praise Navarro’s tough-on-crime approach and say he doesn’t undercut their deal offers on the eve of trial. When the Santa Clara DA became one of the first prosecutors in the country to charge an Arizona man for selling a date-rape drug on the Internet in 2001, Navarro offered the defendant a five-year prison term for a guilty plea. The defendant, who faced up to 10 years in prison, took it and Deputy DA Robert Baker called the deal “sufficiently severe.” Both sides agree Navarro is reasonable with scheduling and workload issues. “He’s even-tempered, yet he maintains control and isn’t afraid to make the decisions,” said Santa Clara Deputy District Attorney Matthew Braker. “He keeps stuff moving, yet he’s sensitive to the fact that lawyers have other cases to handle and other deadlines to meet.” “He is an extremely collegial, amicable, friendly, good person,” Sullivan said. “He is approachable.” Navarro said he tries to keep personal animosities from flaring up in his courtroom. He said he employs an “it’s just business” approach. Navarro, a former deputy district attorney, was appointed to the municipal bench in 1986 and successfully campaigned for the superior court in 1994. “There is some feeling he is not necessar-ily going to make the tough rulings for the defense,” said Deputy Alternate Defender Joseph “J.J.” Kapp. “In my case, that was not the situation.” Kapp said Navarro excluded his client’s videotaped confession in a 2001 rape case, citing a Miranda violation. Kapp was representing a serial rapist known as the “Mountain View Bushwhacker.” “That all went for naught when the defendant decided to testify against my advice,” Kapp said. Prosecutors were then able to use the confession to impeach the testimony. Kapp said he had another case where Navarro gave a young woman a break, sentencing her to probation for theft despite the prosecutor’s push for prison time. “He listens to the lawyers. A lot of judges don’t listen to the lawyers,”Kapp said. Sullivan said he just tried a robbery case in Navarro’s court and, after he won a big ruling, Navarro turned to the prosecution and said, “I know it’s hard to have the burden of proof.” “It wasn’t sarcastic,” Sullivan said. “It was a, �This is your job.’ That was a good moment.” Back in 1997, Navarro presided over the closely watched trial of former San Jose Fire Capt. Robert Gremminger, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for shooting to death a shoplifting suspect fleeing from a Milpitas mall. Navarro sentenced Gremminger to nine years in prison. In the end, Sullivan said what keeps him and any other attorney coming back is Navarro’s demeanor. “He is quite personable and friendly as soon as he is off the record, and he likes to talk. He is interested in my kids, my family,” Sullivan said. “Navarro is a guy with a twinkle in his eye. I can try hard cases in friendly departments.”

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