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COURT: San Francisco Superior APPOINTED: May 1, 1997 DATE OF BIRTH: Aug. 8, 1943 LAW SCHOOL: Boalt Hall School of Law, 1982 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: Pro tem judge, Sonoma County Superior Court Don’t come to Commissioner Marjorie Slabach’s courtroom for a family law hearing without trying to settle. If the lawyers and clients haven’t all met face-to-face, she’ll send both sides into the hall for an impromptu meeting before their hearing. And if they return with the magic words — “full stipulation” — the San Francisco Superior Court commissioner lets them jump to the head of the line, to reward them and hold them up as good role models. “My mantra is ‘talk to each other, listen to each other, settle, settle, settle,’” said Slabach, who spent 14 years as a family law attorney before the court hired her in 1997. Though she concedes some people can’t agree without a jurist’s intervention, Slabach thinks family members know best where they can afford to bend. During hearings and trials in Department 404, Slabach sets child and spousal support, decides custody and visitation rights and divvies up property. One day a week, she hears requests for domestic-violence and elder-abuse restraining orders. Above all, attorneys seem grateful to go before someone from among their ranks, especially someone who has stuck with family court for several years. The commissioner knows family law up and down, and not much gets past her, lawyers said. “She gets what’s going on — not only what people are saying, but what their sub-agendas are,” solo Sandra Blair said. Nordin Blacker, whose law offices are in San Francisco, says, “One of the things that drives family lawyers crazy is you get a judge who sits there for a year � and just when they start getting grounded in the field, they depart.” With Slabach’s continuity and stature, she is “like a rock,” says solo Michael Tobriner. In court, Slabach is no-nonsense and forthright, lawyers said. And she’s adept at breaking proceedings down for the pro pers that typically outnumber the lawyers in her courtroom. “She’s incredibly patient. And she’s willing to explain and provide background,” said Kevin Duffy, of San Francisco’s Marx & Duffy. But her patience isn’t endless. Sarah Davis, a solo mediator and family law litigator in San Francisco, remembers Slabach calling one of her opponents out on a procedural game. She’s “very good at cutting through the bullshit,” Davis said. Christopher Donnelly, head of the family law department at San Francisco’s Leland, Parachini, Steinberg, Matzger & Melnick, has seen her hold litigants in contempt for ignoring a court order. Slabach can also keep lawyers guessing until she rules. She rarely announces a tentative decision and has a good poker face, according to a couple of attorneys. When she rules, it’s usually quick. Some attorneys note that she doesn’t usually take matters under submission. “She’s definitely decisive, and in family law nine times out of 10 that’s a really positive thing,” Donnelly said. One family law attorney in San Francisco complained that Slabach’s rulings can be inconsistent. “It’s difficult to tell your client what to expect that you’re going to get from her,” said the lawyer, who asked not to be named. Other lawyers disagreed, but did say a Slabach ruling can surprise you. “She’s probably less predictable than whatever the median is,” Donnelly said. “It’s probably because she is a little creative. Sometimes she’ll make a ruling, in a sense, that neither side asks for,” especially if children are involved, he added. Lawyers looking to impress the commissioner should leave the bickering at the door, come with a proposed order in hand and get their facts straight. “I like someone who is well prepared and doesn’t have to ask his or her client every time I ask for a piece of information,” she said during an interview. She laments that few lawyers come to law and motion hearings with a proposed order in hand — as local court rules require, she pointedly added. “I’ve got one attorney who does that. � Nobody else does.” Slabach spent the first 36 years of her life in Indiana, where she went to graduate school and taught junior high and high school English for nearly 14 years. But when she moved to California and teaching jobs proved scarce, Slabach, who’d been active in her teacher’s association, concluded that “if I couldn’t teach, I could be satisfied doing labor law.” Once she started at Boalt Hall School of Law, though, her interest in that waned. After graduating at age 39, Slabach and a law school friend started a family law practice in Santa Rosa later known as Conner, Slabach, Lawrence & Rodney. “Having the opportunity to be on the bench in family law was just an exquisite opportunity,” she said. She spent about three years in another family law department, which deals with enforcing child support, before taking over her current courtroom in 2000. Many lawyers remark on Slabach’s involvement in family law outside of court. She teaches at Golden Gate University School of Law and is on the board of Kids’ Turn, a nonprofit organization that runs classes to help families deal with divorce. “I have seen a lot of judges who just hated being in family law. They felt like they had been sent to Stalingrad in the middle of winter. � And it made practice miserable,” said Andrea Palash of Pierson, Coats & Palash. So, Palash says she appreciates Slabach’s dedication to the court. “It’s a gift.”

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