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MCGUINESS KEEPS IT ALL IN THE FAMILY COURT:Alameda County Superior APPOINTED:July 28, 2005, by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger DATE OF BIRTH:Jan. 16, 1951 LAW SCHOOL:UCLA School of Law, 1975 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE:None The man sat in the back of the downtown Oakland courtroom for more than two hours last week, patiently waiting for the case in which he was one of two criminal defendants to get under way. But when he found out his case was going to be continued to the last day of August, the man � who was very tall and imposing � got mad. “I don’t agree with it,” he barked at Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert McGuiness. “This has been [going on] more than a year.” McGuiness didn’t gavel the guy down or even snap at him. Instead, he calmly told the defendant he agreed with him. “When it goes this long, it’s not fair to anyone,” the judge said evenly. “It’s not fair to the witnesses, it’s not fair to the defendants and it’s not even fair to the prosecution.” McGuiness then promised the man he would do his best to ensure the matter got resolved on Aug. 31. “Don’t get upset with your lawyer,” he said. “If you want to get upset with anyone, get upset with me.” The defendant seemed satisfied. Afterward, the judge said he understood the man’s frustration, and had no reason to get angry over his outburst. “I dealt with him as a person,” he said. “I wanted to address him so he wouldn’t think cavalierly of me.” Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Laurinda Ochoa, who was prosecuting that case, said the judge routinely shows respect for anyone in his courtroom. “That’s him. That wasn’t a put-on,” she said. “That’s what he does all the time with everyone.” Alameda County Deputy Public Defender James Cramer, who’s appeared before the judge several times, agreed. “I’ve seen that happen a number of times with my clients,” he said. “People who are grumpy about being in a jail cell, he treats them like anybody else.” McGuiness, 56, was born in Oakland and lives in the city of Alameda. While he’s only been on the bencha couple of years, judges have always been an integral part of his life. His father, William McGuiness, presided over the Alameda County Superior Court while Robert was a teenager, retiring in 1974. His older brother, also named William, is the administrative presiding justice of San Francisco’s First District Court of Appeal. And his wife, Yolanda Northridge, sits on the Alameda bench, albeit in a separate courthouse. “Living at home, we saw [judging] firsthand,” says William McGuiness, who administered the oath of office to his younger brother. “And I think that had to have some kind of impact [on our lives] � subliminally, maybe.” Robert McGuiness has no doubt. “I enjoyed the theater of the courts and the substance of them,” he said. “When something interesting was happening, [my dad] suggested we come watch the pros in action.” He recalls that he and his father even spent evenings reviewing probation reports together � “after I got the homework done.” Before joining the bench, McGuiness ran his own civil law practice in Oakland for seven years. Prior to that, he and his wife operated McGuiness & Northridge for the 10 years before she left to join the bench. McGuiness said he came late to a judgeship because he had promised his two sons, Peter and David, he would wait until they graduated from high school to change jobs. The youngest is now at UCLA and the other is shopping around for a law school back east. In the boys’ younger days, McGuiness managed their youth baseball team. A photo of them in their uniforms and him coaching hangs on a wall outside the judge’s office. McGuiness’ love of America’s pastime � another of his father’s legacies � is obvious. There’s a photo of his oldest son playing ball for Fordham University, a wall-mounted bat proclaiming him “Judge Coach Bob,” a huge Lego-constructed ballpark on a table and assorted baseball-related knickknacks around the office. “Baseball’s been big for me,” he said. McGuiness comes across as a casual, easygoing guy. “I live my life taking care of today,” he said. “I let tomorrow take care of itself.” At a three-hour preliminary hearing in a drug and weapons possession case last week, he engaged in plenty of lighthearted banter with the prosecutor, defense lawyer and some witnesses. But McGuiness kept a firm control on things, twice citing case law to the attorneys during questioning. Alameda County Deputy Public Defender Cole Powell, who was there that day, said he likes how McGuiness explains his decisions and reasoning to attorneys. “A lot of judges try to play it close to the vest, or I think they’re afraid of themselves � afraid they’ll say too much,” Powell said. “So I highly respect him for that.” One of the most important roles McGuiness feels he plays is to ensure jurors have a positive interaction with the court. He wants them “to believe in the process.” After all cases, McGuiness writes a personal letter of thanks to every juror and seeks their input. “I get a lot of responses,” he said. As proof, McGuiness held up a letter sent in March by a former juror. The San Lorenzo man told the judge it had been a “pleasure” to serve and thanked him for treating everyone respectfully. A Latino, the man particularly praised the translator and the judge’s evenhandedness. “If all courtrooms were like yours,” he wrote, “our whole community would have more confidence in knowing that they were going to get a fair trial.” McGuiness probably couldn’t hear sweeter words. You can order past judicial profiles of more than 100 Bay Area judges hereor by calling 415-749-5406.

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