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SAN JOSE — Superior Court Judge Alden Danner is known in Santa Clara County as a jurist with the experience and demeanor to keep the peace in even the most frustrating and hard-fought trials. Those traits are expected to serve him well this January when he begins a two-year stint as presiding judge of the county’s sprawling and budget-stressed justice system. Danner, who will replace outgoing PJ Thomas Hansen, is almost unanimously praised for his even temper and trial management. “I have high hopes,” said Deputy Public Defender Javier Rios, who noted that Danner “has the personality to run the calendar fair and square.” Danner, 67, will inherit a court system facing budget cuts as deep as 10 percent in 2005. Already, the court has been unable to fill vacancies in support staff and administrative positions. Danner said his broad experience — he was a board member of the California Judges Association and chair of the Judicial Technology Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee of the Santa Clara County Superior Court — will help him make tough choices, which he hopes won’t be necessary. “Hopefully, revenues will pick up, and the courts will be able to recover,” Danner said in a telephone interview Tuesday. Danner, a 1965 Stanford Law School graduate who has presided in almost every type of case, is moving ahead with several proposed changes to the court system. Among those plans are a pilot program for a “unified family court,” where numerous legal matters affecting families — such as substance abuse cases, juvenile court matters and domestic violence prosecutions — would be handled in a single court rather than spread throughout the system. “The problem is that families are sometimes getting court orders from four different departments. We should bring them together because it would better serve justice and the county,” Danner said. Danner also hopes to push the court system to recognize mental illness among criminal defendants and insure that mental health issues are treated to reduce recidivism. “We should be paying more attention to mental health,” he said. “We need to use a mental health treatment court more than in the past when it was just used for drug cases.” Danner may have an easier time than most winning support for the new programs. As a judge, he has been described as folksy, charming, avuncular and fair. Rios points to a case last year in which his client was charged with first-degree murder for allegedly killing a local bully who burglarized his truck. The trial, which ultimately ended in a hung jury, was extremely stressful, Rios said. Yet Danner kept the courtroom calm. “I think he tried his very best to play it right down the middle and call it fair and square,” Rios said. “There are some judges that you know you are going to have to fight your hardest because there are two DAs in the courtroom, but Danner is not like that,” he said. Those impressions extend to attorneys who knew Danner during his days in private practice. Deputy DA Peter Waite worked with Danner from 1982 to 1985 at Hoge, Fenton, Jones & Appel in San Jose. Danner practiced business law, while Waite was an insurance defense lawyer. Waite described Danner as “a pleasant guy who was well-liked in the office.” “And that’s everyone’s impression of him today,” Waite said. “He’s genial and easy to get along with. “I think those skills are important [for a PJ]. You need to get along with all these judges because once in a while someone can have an ego or be demanding.” Judge Paul Bernal, a felony trial judge, noted, “Judge Danner has the respect of the entire bench. Besides being productive and organized, he is also very friendly and has a good sense of humor.” Danner was first appointed to a newly created position by Gov. George Deukmejian in 1989 and subsequently elected. Judge Catherine Gallagher, who handles civil trials, will replace Danner as assistant presiding judge and will likely succeed him when his term ends after two years.

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