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COURT: Third District Court of Appeal APPOINTED: Oct. 1, 2003, by Gov. Gray Davis DATE OF BIRTH: June 21, 1950 LAW SCHOOL: UC-Davis’ King Hall School of Law, 1981 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: Nevada County Superior Court, 1997-2003 Third District Justice M. Kathleen Butz wasn’t sure she was ready for the appellate bench when Justice Consuelo Callahan left for the Ninth Circuit last year. Butz had spent 14 years as a private practitioner in Nevada City, handling just about everything that came down the pike. She’d spent nearly seven years as a superior court judge. But elevation to the appellate bench still felt a trifle “premature.” Her future colleagues on the Third District disagreed, taking the unusual step of writing a unanimous letter supporting her appointment to the bench. The only name absent from the list of supporters was PJ Arthur Scotland, who sat on the commission confirming Butz’s nomination. “Everyone on the court had great respect for her work and were for her,” said Scotland. “I would venture to say in all likelihood that will probably never happen like this again.” The letter alone may have been enough to get Butz hired, although she was already known in judicial circles as an instructor at the California Center for Judicial Education and Research. “I was very impressed that there was this letter from all the justices of the Third District unanimously supporting her,” said Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George, who sat on the Commission on Judicial Appointments with Scotland. Fellow members of the appellate bench say Butz has already shown herself to be a deft writer and a workhorse. “She’s pitched right in and is right up there with everybody in terms of her production,” said Coleman Blease, who at 25 years is the longest-tenured Third District justice. “I do keep an informal score of what people produce, and I think she’s on the top of that list in terms of the number of cases she has filed.” “I never found her to be unprepared — ever — in my appearances before her,” said Julie McManus, deputy county counsel for Nevada County. McManus recalled the first day Butz took over as a trial court judge in juvenile court. The first file Butz opened was literally burned around the edges — a byproduct of her having pored over it by candlelight the night before. “That’s an example of how engrossed she becomes,” said McManus. An avid reader and polished writer whose friends kid her about her punctuation obsession, Butz prefers to err on the side of keeping her opinions unpublished, unless she can add something significant or instructive to case law. But the cases she has authored get high marks for both clarity and detail. As the author of Bardis v. Oates, 04 C.D.O.S. 4710, Butz succinctly — and humorously — dealt with the issue of excessive punitive damages in a case she characterized as marked by “self-dealing, secret markups and clandestine commissions.” In that fraud case, Butz reduced a punitive damage award from $7 million to $1.5 million. Although the injury was purely economic, Butz wrote that the highest ratio of punitive damages allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court was appropriate because “defendants’ fraudulent and deceptive conduct registers high on the reprehensibility meter.” “I think her opinion was very well written,” said plaintiff attorney Edward Freidberg, who nevertheless has petitioned for review by the California Supreme Court. Even before her elevation to the appellate bench, Butz’s opinion as a Nevada County Superior Court judge in Albertson’s Inc. v. Young, 107 Cal.App.4th 106 (2003), earned high marks from her future Third District colleagues. They affirmed her decision, which upheld the right of Albertson’s grocery stores to deny permission to gather signatures outside a Nevada City store. Butz said she was relieved to have her judgment affirmed but had already learned as a small-town trial court judge to live comfortably with people who don’t necessarily agree with her decisions. She recalls that she once remanded a defendant for Monday morning custody, only to run into him after work across the produce aisle in the local grocery store. She says the defendant nevertheless treated her civilly. “Hopefully, that says something,” says Butz. “You have integrity, you treat people with respect, so that even if they didn’t like what their case results were, they still know they were treated fairly.” Butz said she gravitated to the legal arena after her divorce from her first husband gave her “a real awakening” about a multitude of laws she never knew existed. After graduating from UC-Davis law school, Butz decided to settle in Nevada City, not far from Auburn, where her parents — both descendants of early California settlers — lived. She began her legal career at the civil firm Berliner & Spiller, where she received mentoring from founder Harold Berliner — a former Nevada County district attorney best known for penning the Miranda warning. Along the way she found another mentor — Judge Frank Francis, who retired just short of 20 years in office and encouraged Butz to run for his seat in a race that included nine other candidates. Butz won the 1996 election. It was Francis who also encouraged Butz to apply for a seat on the appellate bench, where she is now the only woman among 10 justices and one of only a few from a rural county. Carloads of supporters came to her swearing-in in Sacramento, crowding the appellate court chambers and the outside foyer, where the proceedings were broadcast to the standing-room-only crowd. “There is a great deal of love for her from this county,” said McManus. “I really look up to her as a role model and aspire to be as prepared and as thorough and caring and considerate a person as she is.”

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