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About a hundred East Bay attorneys got a first glimpse last week at the list of Alameda County judges who will run special civil law departments and see cases through from beginning to end. Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith � now one of the county’s two law and motion judges � is one of a dozen jurists tapped to run new “direct calendar” departments, which are set to open for litigation about three months from now. Her transition will leave Judge Frank Roesch as the lone judge dedicated to law and motion. “I think everybody’s excited to get going, including me,” said Judge Jon Tigar, who was part of a group that devoted “collectively thousands of hours” to preparing for the transition. He will take over a direct calendar department in July. The overhaul of Alameda County’s calendar system is intended to move civil cases more efficiently by assigning them to one judge for all purposes. Unlike the federal court system, which uses a direct calendaring approach, civil cases in most state courts routinely go through many different judges before they get resolved. Tapped for the assignment by Presiding Judge George Hernandez, the group of judges runs the gamut from A (Judge Lawrence Appel) to Z (Judge Patrick Zika). “I’d been thinking about who the direct calendar judges would be over a year ago,” Hernandez said. Though judicial assignments took careful thought, Hernandez said deciding on court locations for the direct calendar departments was probably even more difficult, and that decision hasn’t been completely resolved yet. The court has decided to move some civil judges to the Fremont Hall of Justice, but that has presented logistical issues for staff and research attorneys who will have to shuttle between the various direct calendar departments throughout the county. The court has also been dealing with infrastructure problems at the Allen E. Broussard Justice Center in downtown Oakland, where Hernandez is thinking about relocating Smith and Judge Ronni MacLaren. “The building is so worn and deteriorating, I don’t know whether it can withstand that” additional traffic, he said. Other court locations where civil law practitioners might find themselves later this year include the George E. McDonald Hall of Justice on the island of Alameda and the Hayward Hall of Justice. Cheryl White, chair of the Alameda County Bar Association’s trial practice section, said civil litigators have taken a generally hopeful approach to the changes underway. At a presentation Wednesday to discuss the new assignments, White said the crowd appeared “cautious but positive.” “They were willing to give it a try,” added White, managing partner of Brent Coon and Associates in San Francisco. Even so, White expressed several concerns about how the new direct calendar system will affect lawyers. For example, she said, while court officials may prefer to have civil cases heard in Fremont, not all the litigators will be so eager to travel down to the southern part of the county. “Most attorneys who file cases in Oakland are in San Francisco or Oakland. So it’s a schlep for all of us,” she said. The way it is now, cases that are filed in the northern part of the county are typically assigned to a judge who’s based there. But under the system that will be rolled out in July, any case can be assigned to any of the 12 direct calendar judges regardless of their court location. Cases will also be assigned randomly so each judge gets a fair mix of case types. That way, one judge won’t wind up with mostly fender-bender disputes while another gets all the high-stakes employment litigation. “Each judge will have a share of the wealth and the burden,” said Judge Robert Freedman, who has chaired a task force of county judges preparing the transition to civil direct calendar departments since October 2005. Freedman will not be one of the new direct calendar judges, and will continue to preside over complex litigation cases. In addition to Smith, Tigar, MacLaren, Appel and Zika, other judges who will run the civil direct calendar departments include Kenneth Burr, Steven Brick, Cecilia Castellanos, Stephen Dombrink, David Hunter, Richard Keller and Barbara Miller.

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