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Fair but slow, conservative yet open-minded. A “nice man.” That seems to sum up the perceptions of attorneys who appear before San Francisco Superior Court Judge John Conway. “He’s very patient and deliberate,” said criminal defense attorney Richard Shikman. “He’s got a highly developed sense of fairness,” said defense attorney Randall Knox. “He appreciates decorum, old-fashioned decorum,” said Assistant District Attorney Victoria Baldocchi. That’s exactly what he expects in his courtroom, Conway said. “Civility is paramount with me,” the judge said. “Don’t ever be discourteous to opposing counsel. If opposing counsel is discourteous to you, the court will take the action it deems appropriate.” Conway has been a judge since 1992, starting off in municipal court presiding at hearing preliminary hearings. When consolidation occurred in January 1999, he was elevated to the superior court and now handles felony trials. It has not been a smooth ride for the judge through his nine years on the bench. Two 1998 surveys of attorneys by The Recorder and the old San Francisco Examiner found Conway lacking. The Recorder survey accused him of “hand-wringing and a tendency to waffle.” The Examiner ranked him low in such categories as being able to grasp the issues, encouraging negotiations and communicating rulings. But it seems the judge has grown into his role on the bench, with attorneys now saying respectful if not praiseworthy things about him. “He’s conservative,” Shikman said. “He has a lot of family members and he’s sensitive to public safety issues. But he’s decent and honest.” Assistant District Attorney Dennis Cashman also found Conway conservative, but a judge “who reads everything. He wants people to conduct themselves appropriately.” Cashman said Conway doesn’t like lawyers who interrupt other lawyers. “He’s just a nice man,” the prosecutor said. In addition to decorum, Conway cites ethics as being important to proper courtroom behavior for attorneys. “If you know something that should be conveyed to opposing counsel, give it to him or her and you don’t have to wait until court to do that,” he said. “Also, if you find out something and don’t communicate it to opposing counsel, which places them at a disadvantage, there may be sanctions for failure to do so.” Knox said Conway does possess the one key trait that all judges require: judicial temperament. “He would not express anger, no matter how upset he deserved to be,” the defense attorney said. Shikman said he appreciates the treatment lawyers trying to make ends meet get from Conway. “He has an understanding of the defense lawyers in this building who are fundamentally solos,” Shikman said. “He knows what’s involved in paying the bills, hours and paying overhead. That makes him understanding of the stresses of being a lawyer.” Conway also treats defendants with an equal hand, regardless of whether they ask for a trial rather than take the prosecution’s deal that often includes jail time. Some judges have been harsher on those who demand a trial and lose. “The defendant is not going to be punished because he or she wants his or her day in court,” the judge said. “To me it would be improper to penalize an individual who is exercising a constitutional right.” And one last requirement to know before appearing in Conway’s court: oral argument alone won’t carry the day. “I don’t think under most circumstances that an issue that comes before any judge is to be treated so lightly in the eyes of the attorneys that they need not sit down, collect their thoughts and memorialize them in writing to the court,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a 1,000-page tome, just something that gives me the highlights of what the issues are. And please provide some law to back up your argument.”

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