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Eric Safire sums up his reasons for running for a seat on the San Francisco bench like so: “As a trial lawyer, I want a trial lawyer on the bench.” We’d rather see a judge up there. Safire is, by his own account, a courtroom gladiator, with 200 trials under his belt. He might be good in the ring. Not so good, we think, as the referee. When we asked which judge’s treatment of litigants he’d most like to emulate, he named a former judge, Dominique Olcomendy, who we pointed out could rub people the wrong way. “Well,” he said with a laugh, “I anticipate that that might happen to me.” On that we agree. A certain breed of courtroom animal might relish a couple rounds with Godzilla in a black robe. Not so the litigants, many of whom are un- or under-represented. Safire told us he’d “try to make people feel respected.” By way of example, he said people � clients � come in to his office “with what in their minds is the largest problem in their life. And it seems like nothing to me, it seems like nothing to my secretary. But we always make them feel like it’s important to us.” Safire’s rival, Lillian Sing, comes by her empathy more honestly. The biggest question mark with Sing is her enthusiasm for a job which, after all, she quit a few years ago to run for political office. She says she discovered she wasn’t cut out for that, that the bench � where she’d earned a solid reputation for more than 20 years � was her true calling. She returned as an assigned judge, but says she can contribute more as the real deal. She hopes to land at juvenile court, seen by some as a less desirable assignment, because it’s a place where a judge can make a difference. We believe her. She brings a background in social work and commitment to the community. And she brings a track record: She’s been a presiding judge, she was a drug court innovator, she helped create a children’s waiting room, and she helped create the court’s nondiscrimination policy. Of course, 20 years on the bench can skew one’s perspective. In talking about the terrible conditions at the juvenile court, she focused on the (to us) least important problem: the judges’ chambers. “They’re horrible � it’s like a closet. No bathroom.” (When we hear from court officials about the need for improved facilities, we hope this isn’t what they have in mind.) That aside, we think litigants are more likely to leave Sing’s courtroom feeling that their problems matter at least as much as her perks or opinions. We can’t say the same of Safire. One more thing: Safire is sending out mailers that include two headlines from 2001: “Judge’s Error Will Free Man From Prison,” says one, which topped a Chronicle story about another judge’s decision that Sing’s failure to poll a jury before declaring a mistrial created double jeopardy. What those mailers don’t say was that the court of appeal found she hadn’t erred, and the accused wasn’t set free in any event. In an uncharacteristic bit of modesty, our rough-and-tumble gladiator referred questions about the mailer to his campaign manager, who first said he knew about the appellate ruling, then later said he didn’t. We still don’t know what Safire knew. And that’s knowledge enough. We endorse Lillian Sing for San Francisco Superior Court.

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