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COURT: Santa Clara County Superior APPOINTED: April 20, 2006, by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger BORN: May 16, 1963 LAW SCHOOL: Santa Clara University School of Law, 1993 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: Santa Clara County commissioner from 2001-2006 Shawna Schwarz may be a new judge, but she’s certainly no stranger to the Santa Clara County Superior Court bench. Since 2001, Schwarz has been a commissioner in the court’s juvenile dependency unit, presiding over hundreds of the justice system’s most sensitive and gut-wrenching cases. She was appointed judge April 20 � just a month after filing papers to run for one of the county’s two open bench seats. Some wondered why she even bothered to run. With Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger trying hard to appeal to both Democrats and Republicans this election season, Schwarz seemed like the perfect candidate for a judicial appointment: She’s a woman, a lesbian and a Democrat. If that weren’t enough, Schwarz already has nearly five years of gavel experience under her belt and is a well-regarded lecturer within the child-dependency community. Despite these favorable odds, Schwarz wasn’t willing to gamble. “I don’t think I have such a huge ego that I was sure I was going to get a judicial appointment,” Schwarz said during a recent interview from her Terraine Street courtroom chambers in downtown San Jose. “When push comes to shove, it’s only up to the governor. You never know until it happens,” Schwarz said. “I just feel relieved.” Technically, her name will still appear on the June 6 ballot, but Schwarz can take it easy that night. Her future is secure. It looks like she will stay put in dependency court, at least until the annual January rotation rolls around. “I would love to stay here,” Schwarz said. “I feel like I am really making a difference. It sounds trite, but it’s really true.” Most of the attorneys who filled out the Santa Clara County Bar Association’s recent judicial survey all seem to think Schwarz is making a big difference, too. The 43-year-old jurist received high marks in all six categories, such as impartiality, integrity and dispute resolution skills, though one respondent complained that Schwarz’s temperament could use some improving. The comment seemed to rattle her a bit. “I try and be friendly and respectful,” Schwarz said recently. “I think I am pretty patient.” She admitted, however, that she can sometimes be impatient. And she very rarely continues cases. Those who appear regularly before Schwarz think she is being a bit too hard on herself. “She’s diligent, intelligent and a conscientious judicial officer,” gushed Debra Rao, a deputy in the Santa Clara district attorney’s juvenile dependency unit. “She’s a very modest person,” adds Alan Lagod, a San Jose solo. “She controls her courtroom, but she also listens to what [both sides] say. That’s an art. I don’t think you can teach that. “I think she’s done a terrific job as a commissioner, and she’ll be a terrific judge,” Lagod asserts. Before donning her judicial robes, Schwarz spent six years as the directing attorney for the Law Foundation’s Legal Advocates for Children and Youth, where she helped craft legislation regulating the transport of minors to out-of-state facilities and logged countless hours of training sessions on youth-related law issues. While Schwarz’s resume boosts an impressive list of legal accomplishments, law is actually Schwarz’s second career. She has an undergraduate and master’s degree in sociology from Stanford University. Upon graduating, Schwarz fell into a job doing social research. She was on the Ph.D. track when she suddenly decided to change direction. Becoming a lawyer “had never even occurred to me,” Schwarz said. But when a friend suggested it to her, Schwarz dived enthusiastically into law school at Santa Clara University. She moved with the same enthusiasm from the hectic daily grind as a juvenile justice attorney to the hectic daily grind of life on the bench. “I feel like I made a pretty smooth transition,” Schwarz said. “Even as an attorney, I felt I was good at looking at both sides. I thought it was just natural for me.” As a commissioner, Schwarz already had a lot on her plate. In addition to sitting as a judge, Schwarz was also in charge of running the drug and alcohol recovery calendar for parents in dependency court. And on most Fridays, she makes the drive to the South County courthouse in San Martin to hold hearings for families who don’t own cars and can’t make it up to San Jose. As a judge, Schwarz said she doesn’t plan to change her ways much. “She’s very bright and very well organized. And when I say ‘well organized,’ I mean it,” said Judge Katherine Lucero, who supervises dependency court. Schwarz’s small, second-floor courtroom is lined with pictures from Disney movies. She also has stuffed animals and picture books readily available. It may not have the look and feel of a mainstream courtroom, but it is a place where families are both torn apart and reunited. “We have a lot of crying in dependency,” Schwarz acknowledges. “We see a lot of child neglect, drugs and domestic violations.” But there is also a lot of joy that comes through her courtroom, too: Adoptions, guardianships, reunification. “I like to say that 90 percent of my cases are pretty easy to decide,” Schwarz said, “because the parents [usually] do what they are told to do.” You can order past judicial profiles of more than 100 Bay Area judges here or by calling 415-749-5523.

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