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Fog rolls off San Francisco Bay, chilling the 75 or so students taking a short break on what had been a hot, sunny June day in the Berkeley, Calif., hills. A woman walks briskly onto the lawn, clanging a large, old-fashioned school bell. Classes are about to begin. But this isn’t a philosophy class at Cal or even a civil litigation course at University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall. It’s judge school — or, as it’s officially known, the B.E. Witkin Judicial College of California — where newly appointed or elected state judges learn how to be judges. Mandated by California Rule of Court 970, judge school, held for two weeks in June, is required of all superior court judges, commissioners and referees within two years of taking the oath of office. The school, conducted by the Judicial Council’s Center for Judicial Education and Research in San Francisco, was founded in 1967, but only became mandatory for all new judges in 1996. “The goal is to educate new judicial officers to help them complete the transition from being advocates to neutral decision-makers,” says Dean Brenda Harbin-Forte, who’s also an Alameda County Superior Court judge. “It’s not so much about what they do in the courts, as much as how they do it.” And with lawyers coming to the bench from all manner of practices, judicial education is essential. “They usually have an in-depth knowledge of one aspect of the law,” says 1st District Court of Appeal Justice Carol Corrigan, who has been teaching at judge school since 1989, “but not necessarily an encyclopedic understanding of all the law.” On this particular Tuesday afternoon, about 45 judges from around the state are gathered in a spacious room, hearing about evidence from Corrigan and fellow 1st District Justice Mark Simons. Across the courtyard, another group listens attentively while Marin County Superior Court Judge Lynn Duryee and San Diego County Superior Court Judge Eddie Sturgeon lecture on the proper handling of trials. They’re four of about 70 judges and justices from around the state who have volunteered to take a day or two out of their busy schedules to give their new comrades a boost on the bench. Simons, whose bench job doesn’t permit much movement, paces energetically back and forth at the front of his classroom, challenging his charges with questions about when and how to admit evidence. Only about 10 in this class are female, but there are judges of nearly every race. Some have the snowy white hair of older age, while others — dressed in everything from sandals and shorts to golf shirts — look like young surfer dudes. Simons, who was dean of judge school in 1995 and 1996, says he focuses on teaching primary skills. “I’m not trying to teach them a body of law,” he says. “I’m trying to help teach skills in ruling on evidence issues. “I’ll say to them, ‘There are two kinds of judges — those who struggle with evidence and those who don’t understand it,’” Simons explains. “Some people need to know it’s a little more difficult than they think.” Judge school, in general, is no breeze. While there are diversions — such as an organized volleyball game and a tour of San Quentin State Prison and its notorious gas chamber — the new judges are put through the grinder. Classes are tough and the hours are long. The judges, who stay in dorms on the grounds, are required to take classes on evidence and trials, and a certain number of electives dealing with everything from adoptions to voir dire. “It’s boot camp,” says Erica Yew, a civil attorney appointed to the Santa Clara County Superior Court seven months ago. “Classes start at 8 in the morning and end at 5, and if you miss any class you’re told that you’ll have to pay the state back for what you miss. And then there are nighttime events.” But Yew, who quit the State Bar Board of Governors to join the bench, says a blue-collar, next-door neighbor wouldn’t let her complain. “He said, ‘If judges are going to make rules, they have to show that they can live by them.’ And he’s right.” John Pacheco, a seven-month member of the San Bernardino County Superior Court, agrees with Yew that the two-week course can be wearing. “Yet, it’s so inspiring it doesn’t matter,” the former personal injury lawyer adds. “I feel like a kid in a candy store. What I really enjoy is knowing how little I know in classes [pertaining to subjects] I know little about, and in classes I know a lot about, there are new cases and new situations that overwhelm me.” Pacheco says he can’t wait to share what he’s learned with the two other judges in his remote Joshua Tree, Calif., courthouse. “We are doing things a little different than they are teaching here,” he notes. KEEPING JURORS HAPPY The judges doing the teaching have often been involved with judge school for years, and relish returning year after year. “I really enjoy the experience of revisiting what we do, with people who are coming to [the bench] with brand-new eyes,” says Justice Corrigan, who has taught several courses in the past 13 years. “It’s a very enlightening interchange for people who have done it for a while, and it’s good to meet the new judges of the state every year.” She and Simons almost always team up to teach evidence, maintaining a comedic banter that educates while keeping things light. “Our mutual belief is that if people enjoy themselves, it creates the better chance they are learning something,” Corrigan says. Judge Duryee has a similar teaching style, and tries to make sure to have interaction with the students. “They learn better when they get to figure out the answers themselves,” says Duryee, a nine-year member of the bench who has taught at judge school for seven years. “I try to use humor and mostly what I use [as hypothetical situations] are real-life problems that have happened to me.” During their lesson on trials, Duryee and Sturgeon play a film comparing a judge and a jury to a professor and his classroom. The make-believe professor tells his puzzled students that they won’t be allowed to ask questions, won’t know whether the teacher is lying, will hear technical terms that will not be explained and can’t pass the course unless all agree on the same answer while locked in a small room. “This will be a rewarding experience,” he sums up. Judge school students chuckle at the analogy, and Duryee puts a fine point on the example by telling the new judges they will have to look at jurors in a way they never did as lawyers. “When you were a lawyer, you never thought about the jury [except at key points in the process],” she says. “When you’re a judge, you’re responsible for keeping those people happy and making sure they’re doing their job.” Imaginary scenarios presented by Duryee during class include what the new judges would do if they overheard jurors making negative comments about a lawyer during a break in trial and whether they would let jurors ask questions during the proceedings. Judge Sturgeon tells the class that he would allow questions, but only in writing at a sidebar conference with the lawyers. “Do you throw that note away?” he asks. “No, you mark it. It becomes part of the record.” The transition from lawyering to judging is harder than most would believe, Corrigan, Simons and Duryee say. As the old song says, you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. “The lawyers always know more about the facts of a case than the judge does,” Corrigan points out. “And sometimes when you make the transition to the bench you forget you don’t know everything about a lawyer’s case. “You think, ‘Why is he putting on this witness? Or why is he putting on that witness?’” she says. “But there might be a superb tactical reason, so you wonder when you should jump in and when not to.” New judges also have to attend a one-week orientation within six months of joining the bench, but that covers different territory. “[Judge school] is about trials, evidence, handling DUI trials. I’ve learned about arraignments and bail forfeitures,” says student Judge Yew. “It’s all very substantive, whereas judge orientation is more about over-arching ethical issues, whether you can have lunch with friends and what you have to report.” That latter part is important, Justice Simons says. “Often people who are trial lawyers who become judges are fairly gregarious and go out to lunch with others,” he says. “But you become a judge and you can’t [automatically] go out to lunch again.” Yew says she’s already experienced that with friends who call and e-mail her far less often. “They say they feel like they can’t,” she says. “There is some isolation once you get on the bench.” This year’s students, save for a few elected to office, are almost all appointees of California Gov. Gray Davis, and while Dean Harbin-Forte says each class “has its own personality,” neither she nor any of the judges speaking for this story admit noticing any differences in Republican appointees and their Democratic counterparts over the years. They also say they have never encountered anyone who they thought just didn’t have the makings of a judge. “But I’ve seen people for whom it might be a more difficult transition,” says Corrigan. “I’ve seen a couple of those.”

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