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COURT:San Francisco Superior APPOINTED:March 8, 1996 DATE OF BIRTH:Oct. 12, 1951 LAW SCHOOL:Hastings College of the Law, 1979 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE:Pro tem commissioner, 1992-1996 Commissioner Catherine Lyons had no background in juvenile law before she was picked for a juvenile dependency department last April. And she didn’t request the assignment. “I did not think I would be interested in it,” Lyons said. “But it turns out I like it very much.” Some attorneys who’ve appeared before her say Lyons’ even-handed and patient demeanor is well-suited for the often emotionally charged proceedings, where she determines what to do with children whose parents or guardians have been accused of abuse or neglect. In Department 406, Lyons typically hears from four attorneys at a time — one for the child, another for each parent, and one for the Department of Human Services. “She’s solicitous toward the parents,” said Deputy City Attorney Robert Evans Jr. “In our business, we have to on one hand encourage parents to do better, but on the other hand, deal them out of their children’s lives. And I think she does that fairly well.” And she isn’t afraid to buck social workers’ recommendations, a couple of lawyers also note. Social workers’ opinions generally carry a lot of weight in juvenile dependency court, said San Francisco solo Richard Schooler, adding, “It’s not unheard of, but it’s unusual for commissioners to go against them.” Lyons did just that in one of his cases, when the Department of Human Services recommended taking a girl Schooler represented out of her parents’ custody. “She returned her to her parents and took a chance,” said Schooler, adding that he thought it was the correct decision. San Francisco solo Gary Gonzalez, who’s represented parents and children in front of Lyons, has also seen the commissioner rule in favor of a parent over the social services department’s advice. “When a court does that, even against the recommendation of a minor’s counsel, I think there’s some courage going there.” Lyons describes herself as pretty easy-going, but there are a couple of areas attorneys warn not to test her on. Though she’s not prone to displays of temper, attorneys say she puts a stop to interrupting voices. And she is big on punctuality. “I really like starting court on time,” Lyons said. Intelligent and empathetic, she runs a tight ship, but is “still human,” said Deputy City Attorney Tamiza Hockenhull, who was assigned to her courtroom for nearly a year. The commissioner will stop you in your tracks “in a minute if you’re speaking over another attorney,” said Hockenhull. “That’s probably one of her pet peeves.” But lawyers who call the commissioner’s clerk if they’re going to be late are likely to be greeted with a smile, Hockenhull added. When attorneys start bickering, “she’ll cut you off,” Gonzalez said. “She’ll pretty much tell you right there, ‘Enough of that.’” “I don’t think she likes attorneys to interrupt other attorneys when they’re speaking, but in general she’s polite,” said Schooler. “She’s not going to go off over some minor thing.” “She likes you to listen and let her finish what she’s saying and not interrupt her,” said Margaret Pendergast, of Furst & Pendergast. “She tries not to lose her temper or raise her voice.” If she has to repeat herself, she might raise the volume — after prefacing it with an apology, Pendergast said. During a trial, Lyons is adept at remembering evidence, said Alan Silverman of Silverman & Silverman. “When she’s hearing testimony from the witnesses, she’s able to take good notes and remember exactly what happened.” And, he added, “She doesn’t like you repeating what’s in the papers.” After graduating from Hastings College of the Law in 1979, Lyons spent several years as an associate, first doing civil litigation for Keker & Brockett, then handling insurance defense at Bledsoe, Cathcart, Boyd, Eliot & Curfman. In the mid-’80s she went to work for Grubb & Ellis Co. as a vice president and staff attorney, where she oversaw litigation and hiring of outside counsel for the real estate services company. In the early ’90s, she spent about a year and a half as a hearing examiner for Berkeley’s rent board. After that, she started her own mediation and arbitration practice focused on real estate broker malpractice cases. When she was hired as a court commissioner in March 1996, Lyons started off in traffic night court at the Hall of Justice. She was assigned to small claims court shortly after returning from an 18-month leave of absence in early 2003 and held that assignment for about a year. It was during her break from the court in 2001 and 2002 — which Lyons used to attend Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government for a master’s in public administration and “a general life tune-up” — that she decided against putting her name in for a judgeship. “I decided,” she said, “I was perfectly happy doing what I was doing.” You can order past judicial profiles of more than 100 Bay Area judges at www.therecorder.com/profiles.htmlor by calling 415-749-5523.

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