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Judge Thomas Hastings is often the big hitter tapped to play in the big games. The Santa Clara, Calif., Superior Court judge regularly handles some of the county’s most complex and highly publicized criminal cases. In 1996, Hastings presided over the trial of Richard Allen Davis, who was convicted of killing 12-year-old Polly Klaas. Now Hastings has been handpicked by state supreme court Chief Justice Ron George to handle the trial of Cary Stayner, the Yosemite handyman accused of killing three women. Hastings, technically retired, is assigned to the Santa Clara courthouse through the assigned judges program and handles a criminal caseload while periodically traveling to Mariposa County for hearings in the Yosemite case. The former defense attorney has earned a reputation as a smart, decisive judge who keeps tight control of his courtroom and has a good rapport with juries. But the judge makes no apologies for his sometimes rocky relationship with the press or the occasional tongue-lashing he doles out to attorneys. Hastings has little patience with attorneys who are late, don’t know proper court decorum or second-guess his rulings, and is quick to show his displeasure. “There’s no question who is in control in Judge Hastings’ courtroom. Tom takes control and keeps control and that’s good,” said San Jose criminal defense attorney Thomas Kelley. “He lets me try my case and doesn’t interfere too much.” “He knows criminal law in and out,” said San Jose defense attorney Ken Robinson. “He is not going to let you get away with bad lawyering.” Some attorneys who have appeared before Hastings criticize him as arrogant and intimidating. “He can be a bit more testy than most,” acknowledged Kelly. “If someone is representing himself (pro per), he can be really short with them. I can see how some people would be afraid of him.” San Jose attorney Christopher Taaffe, who attended high school with Hastings, said the judge isn’t to blame if lawyers encounter problems in his courtroom. “If an attorney is intimidated, it’s because they are insecure and not properly prepared.” Hastings, who joined the bench in 1980, said in a rare interview that he models his courtroom after jurists he respected while he was practicing law. “These judges had great presence,” Hastings said. “That’s the way it was when I started the profession. The judge controlled the courtroom — not the lawyers.” And Hastings points out that his decisive style often appeals to attorneys. “One thing litigators want, right or wrong, is a ruling. They want a judge to make a ruling even on the tough calls,” Hastings said. While most attorneys abide by court decorum and adhere to the judge’s ruling, a few try to relitigate the issues and don’t show respect for the court as an institution. Hastings said he finds this behavior “intolerable” and is quick to let lawyers know it. “I think it’s human nature that you are impatient with somebody who doesn’t see the light,” Hastings said. “If it shows, so be it.” Attorneys say Hastings’ testiness can be easily short-circuited by being prepared. “It just comes from a lack of understanding of what he likes to see and how he likes to see it done,” Kelly said. Hastings’ dealing with the media during the Davis trial and an embarrassing San Jose Mercury News article detailing a group of judges’ weekday golfing habits have resulted in a contentious relationship with the press. In the Davis case, the judge held two television journalists in contempt for not divulging a source who broke a gag order. The appellate court later overturned his contempt order. Hastings also remains unwavering in his criticism of the Mercury News story that chided judges for taking Friday afternoons off to golf. “It had nothing to do with the judges — their productivity, competency, the number of cases taken, the number of cases settled, etc.,” Hastings said. But some speculate that Hastings’ tight control of his courtroom and his strong-handed tactics in dealing with the press are exactly why he was selected to handle the Stayner murder trial. Hastings hinted that his way of handling the media would not change with the upcoming trial. “My job is to ensure both the people and the defendant receive a fair trial,” Hastings said. “I know the press has a job to do and sometimes there is a cross-interest.” While Hastings may cut attorneys and the media little slack, he takes extra care with juries. “He wants them to serve,” Kelly said. “They end coalescing around his theory of public service.” Hastings often stays after trials to talk with jurors and answer questions. “I do protect the jury. I do spend a lot of time with them,” Hastings said. Biography in brief: � Appointed to the Santa Clara County Superior Court on Feb. 11, 1980 by Gov. Brown � Santa Clara University School of Law, June 1965 � Previous legal experience: private practice in Santa Clara County 1970 to 1980; Santa Clara County deputy public defender, 1967-1970.

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