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SACRAMENTO’S LAURIE EARL CAN’T BE PIGEONHOLED COURT: Sacramento County Superior APPOINTED: Feb. 16, 2005, by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger BORN: Oct. 1, 1961 LAW SCHOOL: Lincoln Law School, 1988 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: None Judge Laurie Earl keeps a stress ball with her on the bench for those times when the veteran litigator inside her wants to leap out and make an objection or jump into an argument. “When I’m overseeing trials and I watch lawyers doing a good job questioning a witness, cross-examining a witness, giving a good closing argument, then I think, oh, I miss it. I do,” said Earl, who was named to the Sacramento County Superior Court bench in early 2005. But with a few squeezes of the stress ball or a clench of her jaw, Earl lets the urge pass. “I’m not an advocate, and I assume that each side has its strategy,” she said. “There’s a reason why they ask questions and there may be a reason why they don’t. So I typically don’t jump in.” Earl probably could jump into the shoes of most lawyers who enter her court. Before becoming a judge, she spent 15 years practicing criminal law in Sacramento County, the first six as an assistant public defender and the last nine as a deputy district attorney. “I liked being in front of juries,” said Earl, who also had briefly worked at a civil firm during law school. “I liked trying to find justice, whether I was on the defense side or the prosecution’s side. And I just found that work invigorating, more so than the civil cases that I worked on.” But her last years in the public defender’s office were also emotionally draining. Earl’s clients weren’t always appreciative of her efforts � or even civil to her. “I got burned out and more sympathetic, I think, to the victims of crime,” she said. “I also had kids, and that was a big change for me, I think. Having children can tend to make you more conservative.” It wasn’t tough for Earl to learn her new role as prosecutor; she had spent six years, after all, working across the courtroom from deputy district attorneys. What was tough was earning, or in some cases re-earning, the trust of lawyers on both sides of the aisle. “There wasn’t necessarily a warm fuzzy reception from my colleagues in the public defender’s office and from some colleagues in the district attorney’s office, who weren’t really trusting of someone who was a defense lawyer,” she said. “I have to say it wasn’t a fuzzy reception either from all my new witnesses, who were law enforcement officers.” The tension eventually eased, and Earl worked her way up from misdemeanor cases to the sex crimes division to homicide. In 2000, Earl helped file California’s first “John Doe” arrest warrant based solely on DNA identification. She submitted the paperwork three days before the six-year statute of limitations was set to expire on an unsolved 1994 rape case. Three weeks later, a state laboratory technician linked John Doe’s DNA with a sample taken from a recently jailed parole violator. Earl said she first thought about a bench position after a judge broached the idea with her following a trial. But she didn’t pursue the notion until the same judge brought it up again after another trial over a year later. “As I got older and started doing homicide cases after being in my career for 15 years, I really liked working with the law and thought maybe (becoming a judge) would be taking it to another level,” Earl said. “It was also recognizing that having kids who are school-aged now and need my attention more � trials are a lot of work. Todd Leras, a deputy district attorney who left the public defender’s office when Earl did, said the fast-talking jurist is incredibly efficient and organized. She’s also down-to-earth and relates well to jurors, he said. “She takes complicated ideas and makes them seem simple. That sounds so simple but it’s not,” Leras said. “She can explain the concept of reasonable doubt to a jury in a way that they understand.” Earl handles a trial calendar dominated by criminal cases. She also oversees the court’s weekly firearms calendar. On Fridays, an average of two to six gun owners ask Earl to return their weapons, usually seized by authorities when the owner was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold. Earl said the only thing she really asks of attorneys is to simply state, and not argue, an objection. She said she also likes to keep the process moving, especially after a jury has been selected. “That’s one of the things that did surprise me, becoming a judge. Because as a lawyer I’d look up at the clock and say, ‘Oh, I guess we’re running late today.’ As a judge, I know OK, we were supposed to start five minutes ago. OK, now we’re 15 minutes behind. The No. 1 complaint from jurors is waiting in the hall.” Despite the social anguish Earl endured while becoming a prosecutor, Assistant Public Defender Alan Whisenand said her decision to leave defense work doesn’t seem to influence her rulings. “I think the understanding she brings of the pressures that indigent accused people face is really helpful,” Whisenand said. “She has an open mind about hearing the facts.” You can order past judicial profiles of more than 100 Bay Area judges here or by calling 415-749-5523.

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