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After a dispute erupted last month between the public defender’s office and a new San Francisco Superior Court judge, everyone involved is trying to mend fences. Public Defender Jeff Adachi has softened his position since his office decided April 12 to exercise a peremptory challenge for all matters before Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos, who presides over misdemeanors in Department 14. For now, the PD’s office is invoking the challenges only for trials before Bolanos, a former federal prosecutor appointed less than eight months ago. And rather than publicizing their complaints, Adachi, his No. 2 and the head of his misdemeanor unit are emphasizing they’re anxious to put the matter behind them. “Our intention was never to do anything disrespectful,” said Chief Attorney Teresa Caffese. For her part, Bolanos says she respects defense attorneys’ right to bump her from a case and that she has no desire to ask why. “I don’t question their reasons,” she said. A courtroom clash between the judge and Deputy Public Defender Monica Cummins on April 9 precipitated the blanket challenge, but it wasn’t the sole reason, Adachi said. “[She] threatened to hold an attorney in our office in contempt under circumstances we thought were improper,” Adachi said. But there were also “a number of instances where she was chastising lawyers for advocating for their clients,” he said. Deputy PDs had heard complaints from “many” clients, and some wanted other lawyers because they didn’t think the judge was treating them fairly, Caffese added. Jean Amabile, managing attorney of the PD’s misdemeanor unit, said the office won’t let cases go to trial before Bolanos at least through next week, but added that she doesn’t want to see things drag out. “As a courtesy to the court I would like to move on this.” Though Bolanos defends her demeanor, she says she welcomes feedback and doesn’t question the challenges. “I am very much committed to providing everyone with a fair hearing in my courtroom,” she said, adding that she wants lawyers to make a complete record and advocate vigorously. She denies threatening to hold anyone in contempt and says it’s not her practice to chastise lawyers. “I don’t know what they’re referring to.” Still, she said, “I’m always eager to learn about ways to improve.” Because of the challenge, Judge Mary Wiss has been presiding over one trial this week that would otherwise have gone to Bolanos. And she spent much of last week observing Bolanos, whom she has mentored for months. Typically, new judges are assigned mentor judges for about a year, with most observation taking place in their first few weeks on the bench, said Presiding Judge Donna Hitchens. “After the problem arose,” Hitchens said, Bolanos invited Wiss to offer feedback. The PJ declined to comment on whether any judges had urged Bolanos to extend the invitation, but she said she approved the plan. Bolanos said she asked Wiss to observe her after returning from a weeklong orientation for new judges toward the end of April. Then-Gov. Gray Davis appointed Bolanos in September, plucking her from the U.S. attorney’s office where she had defended civil lawsuits and prosecuted federal crimes. The Yale Law School graduate had begun her legal career in 1989, litigating civil rights cases for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Blanket challenges come along only rarely. In 1998, DA Terence Hallinan announced that he would challenge Judge Ellen Chaitin for all cases involving domestic violence, sexual assault or child abuse. And in 2000, then-Public Defender Jeff Brown vowed to exercise peremptory challenges against Superior Court Judge Thomas Mellon Jr. in all cases. “Every presiding judge probably handles these matters differently, and everybody in this situation has cooperated in trying to resolve the issue,” Hitchens said.

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