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A civil trial judge in San Francisco Superior Court has refused to move into a criminal trial department at the Hall of Justice next year, citing “very personal reasons” and claiming “bias and retaliation.” The new year typically brings a change in assignment for several of San Francisco’s judges, and when Presiding Judge David Ballati released the 2008 lineup late last month, he included Judge Donald Mitchell among three slated to move from San Francisco’s civil courthouse to its criminal one. But in a Nov. 28 e-mail to Ballati, Mitchell said he would “respectfully decline” the assignment and “continue to honorably serve the court and the people of San Francisco” in the courtroom at the Civic Center courthouse where he now presides. And in addition to the “very personal reasons, of which you are aware” that Mitchell cited for not accepting a move to the Hall of Justice, he wrote that there were “other significant reasons” as well. “I feel that your rationale for the assignment to the Hall of Justice is a pretext for bias and retaliation and it is in derogation of my rights as a person and as a judge of this court,” he wrote. On Monday, Mitchell declined to elaborate on his claim of bias and retaliation. “I would just as soon not go into that right now,” he said. But the 64-year-old judge did say that with 1 1/2 years before he can retire with a full pension, a transfer out of the civil division could hurt his chance of doing mediation or arbitration after he retires from the bench. He has been a civil court judge since 1992. “I have done my job, and I’ve done it well for many years. I should be given respect and consideration for that,” Mitchell said. Ballati declined to discuss details of Mitchell’s transfer on Monday but said he stands by all the new assignments announced last month. When Ballati wrote the bench about the 2008 assignments in a memo last month, he told them, “I am moving some of our most experienced judges from their civil assignments to the Hall of Justice to help address the growing criminal caseload.” Ballati said Monday that he does not consider judges’ post-retirement plans when making judicial assignments. “I am anticipating and expect that everyone accepts the reassignments, as they are required to do,” Ballati said. A transfer to the Hall of Justice would also place Mitchell in the same building as his wife of about 30 years, Judge Charlene Mitchell, from whom he is now separated. Asked Monday if his refusal to move to the Hall of Justice was related to her position there, Mitchell said, “It has a lot to do with it.” Along with Mitchell, Ballati sent Judges Robert Dondero and Kevin McCarthy to the Hall of Justice. He moved criminal court judges Harold Kahn, Curtis Karnow, Marla Miller and Charlotte Woolard to the court’s civil division. This is the second year in a row that Ballati has had to push through changes in the judicial lineup in the face of some criticism. Last year, Ballati proposed replacing Judge Richard Kramer in the complex litigation department with another judge. He dropped that proposal under criticism from the bar and instead oversaw the creation of a second complex litigation department for Judge John Munter. Moving day for reassigned judges in the San Francisco court is Jan. 11, and on that day Judge Suzanne Bolanos is set to move into Mitchell’s sixth-floor Civic Center courtroom. “I am completely confident that Judge Ballati will work things out, and the moves will proceed as planned. But I am, of course, happy to defer to whatever his decision is,” Bolanos said Monday.

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