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COURT: Alameda County Superior APPOINTED: Nov. 28, 2000 DATE OF BIRTH: Oct. 21, 1949 LAW SCHOOL: Boston University School of Law, 1974 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: None A former felon charged with possessing a firearm stood before Judge Winifred Smith’s Oakland courtroom, hoping for mercy. Through his public defender, Michael Ogul, Anthony Murray pleaded not guilty and asked Judge Smith to extend his pretrial date to June 23. Judges routinely scoff at such requests, and Smith appeared ready to do the same. “I don’t get it. I’m sorry, I don’t get it,” she said, but allowed Ogul to keep talking. He said Murray worked full time and had two prior engagements that he would be hard-pressed to miss. “He’d like to celebrate his daughter’s birthday and his son’s birthday before pretrial,” Ogul told the judge. “Alright,” Smith said, turning her gaze to her paperwork. “This time.” Attorneys who appear regularly in Smith’s courtroom say the five-year judge, who assigns a heavy felony calendar at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse, is no pushover. But she’ll take time to hear a defendant’s plight. “She is generally respectful of the people who appear before her, which is an important quality,” said William Locke III, who was the calendar attorney for the public defender’s office when Smith began her current assignment a year and a half ago. “Some of the judges on our bench, because of their background and orientation, don’t begin to have a clue about the kind of pressures and difficulties that most of our clients have to live with day to day,” Locke said. “She seems to be a lot more understanding about those difficulties.” A former deputy attorney general, Smith, 55, was appointed to the Alameda County bench in 2000 by former Gov. Gray Davis. She started handling the misdemeanor trials calendar before moving to juvenile court in 2002. Attorneys universally call Smith hardworking, a trait she credits to her parents. Smith’s late father, Fitzroy Younge, is believed to be the first African-American surgeon to practice in the East Bay and was credited with integrating the staffs of several hospitals in the 1940s and 1950s. “My dad was a high achiever,” Smith said. “He taught us all to be high achievers and to develop goals for ourselves, and not to give up or get off track.” Smith received an undergraduate degree from Stanford University before graduating from Boston University School of Law in 1974. That same year she took a job with the state attorney general’s office where she represented state agencies in the AG’s Health, Education and Welfare section. Twenty years ago, Smith was a deputy AG and about to go on maternity leave when she asked a co-worker, Janet Sherwood, to take over an adoption case. “I’d taken cases over from other people that were complete disasters,” recalls Sherwood, now a private attorney in Corte Madera. “It would be two weeks before trial, and they’d be like, ‘good luck!’” “[Smith] knew she was going to go on maternity leave, and she made sure I had everything,” Sherwood said. “And we won the case.” Their friendship — and mutual interest in child welfare — continues to this day. Both sit on the board of AdvoKids, a nonprofit support group for foster children and parents. “She’s just somebody who understands the system and how it works and thinks it ought to work better,” Sherwood said. Smith said the AG’s office is a “great training ground” for becoming a judge. “There was a lot of writing, and I did a lot of my own appeals,” she said. “I think it prepared me for the bench in a lot of ways.” Nevertheless, Smith needed and got help from her benchmates, she said. Among her early mentors was now-retired Judge Judith Ford, the first African-American woman to become an Alameda County judge. “I had to learn criminal law — I’m still learning criminal law — and I got a lot of support from my colleagues with that,” Smith said. “There was no question too difficult to ask.” That approach sets her apart from other judges, Locke said. “She hasn’t had a lot of experience in criminal work in general and felony work in particular,” the public defender said. “But if she didn’t know [something], she was quick to admit it and to seek guidance. A lot of judges, if they don’t know an area, will feel obliged to pretend that they do.” Smith said she tries to treat people “like they matter” and to “take the time to really think about what I’m doing, to really be thoughtful.” She succeeds on both counts, Oakland attorney and family friend John Burris said. “I’ve always been impressed by her willingness to listen, and listen in a non-confrontational, non-irritable manner,” said Burris. “I think she listens and she processes the information based on what’s been presented.” That’s not to say Burris appreciates every decision Smith makes in court. Burris recently appeared in her courtroom to represent a man accused of multiple sexual battery charges. Smith lowered the bail from what prosecutors initially sought — but then raised it after the DA’s office added additional charges, he said. “I wasn’t particular pleased by the decision,” Burris said. Then he paused and added more strongly: “I didn’t like it, period. I frankly didn’t like it. … But she was thoughtful, and she did set forth her reasons.” You can order past judicial profiles of more than 100 Bay Area judges at www.therecorder.com/profiles.html or by calling 415-749-5523.

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