COURT: San Mateo County Superior
APPOINTED: 2009 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
LAW SCHOOL: Drake University School of Law
PREVIOUS EMPLOYMENT: Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman and Dicker (1989 to 1990); Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley (1990 to 1997); Law Office of Charlotte M. Venner (1997 to 1998); deputy county counsel, San Mateo county counsel’s office (1998 to 2010)
PLACE OF BIRTH: Hampton, Va.
POLITICAL AFFILIATION: Democrat
CLE: Elimination of bias
Q: Could you talk a bit about the schedule in your law and motion department, especially in light of budget cuts and reduced resources and staff?
A: Of course. Typically we try to have anywhere between 11 and 12 hearings per day but because we have decreased resources — the clerk’s department has been reduced significantly and research staff has been impacted — we have a lot more than we can handle at times. Typically, as I said, 11 or 12 is what we try to hear and we try to set limits in that regard. But when parties come in for ex parte applications, for orders shortening time, or for unlawful detainer matters that are unanticipated, the hearing numbers go up.
If, for example, a lawyer wanted to file a demurrer today, the matter may be heard four months from now. So the calendar has been impacted.
As I look at the motions, we set limits on demurrers and summary judgment motions. We try to hear no more than three demurrers per day and three summary judgment motions per day. Many of the motions are very involved, such as the mortgage-foreclosure demurrers and other motions for summary judgment on complex cases. And I don’t mean complex under the rules, but rather, matters that are complicated — large construction cases with multiple parties and the like. So that’s why it’s very important to keep the entire numbers down per day.
In February, at the beginning of the month we had scheduled 244 motions.
Q: With such an impacted schedule, how can attorneys help you expedite matters?
A: One of the things the attorneys can do is abide by the rules to assist the judge in reviewing their papers. For example, California Rule of Court 3.1110(f) requires an exhibit tab to be placed on all the exhibits in relation to the motions. That’s done perhaps 50 percent of the time. I only have so much time to devote to each case. I spend a lot of the time just taking Post-its and putting tabs on exhibits that should have been done prior to the motion being filed. That’s one thing that can help.
Another thing that can help in terms of motions ruled upon is for the attorneys to make sure the orders that are given to me reflect the tentative ruling or the order of the court that was decided upon at the hearing. Oftentimes, lawyers will add additional things that were not really before the court. That’s certainly not appropriate and it slows down the order-entry process because I just send it back to the firm and request through my clerk that the order be consistent with the ruling.
Q: What do you like best about being a judge?
A: I like the opportunity to preside over matters, to be patient and fair, to work hard to make the right decision, and to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to have their day in court. The way I conduct my law and motion matters is to provide a little bit more time for argument. I don’t want to cut the attorneys off. They have a lot to say and there may be some things that are brought up during the course of the hearings that may change my mind. And of course, the hearings are contested because they are not satisfied with [the] ruling and they want to persuade me to rule differently, or at least want me to take a second look at it. I’m certainly willing to do that.
Typically, when I have something that is compelling that I hear, I will either continue the matter for further briefing or take the matter under submission. It may take a bit more time to prepare my ruling when I have matters under submission because of the sheer volume of other matters that are on the calendar every day.
Q: Would there be a time when you would make a decision solely on the briefs?
A: What I do is, I decide matters based upon the brief. I post my tentative ruling and then if they contest it, they come in and then we’ll have argument. I write the rulings in anticipation of some analysis they may have that’s different. I want to give them my thinking such that they understand where the judge is coming from and if they don’t agree, they’ll come in to argue and point out what part of my tentative is disputed or incorrect or there’s something I’ve overlooked. But I decide everything, initially, based upon the papers that are before me.
Q: Do you have any tips for effective motion writing?
A: I do. Whenever there are issues, especially multiple issues before the court, encapsulate the issue clearly in your heading. That way, I’m alerted very quickly as to what the matter is and which way you would like to guide the court in terms of your legal analysis. If you have a caption that does not really indicate what you want, it makes it a little difficult for the reader. As I’m going through rather quickly and reviewing these motions, I like to have guideposts to assist me on focusing on the certain legal issues. A description of relief being sought or the issue is important to be set forth in that caption.
Q: Are there any common mistakes that you’re seeing experienced attorneys make?
A: Sometimes, the lawyers are not organized in their oral argument and focus on matters that may not be as important or tend to internalize or personalize the argument when there is a legal issue to be determined, not a personality conflict. I’m not here to resolve personality conflicts. I’m here to rule upon the papers that are before me.
What I’ve found is that sometimes, some of the lawyers will interrupt me while I’m asking a question because they are so determined to make their point. I’m asking questions that may or may not benefit them, but I’m seeking clarification of a certain issue or asking them to distinguish a case or something along those lines. It’s important to hear what the judge has to say because that could be helpful to you, but if you interrupt the judge, you’re not going to have the same type of result if the question’s never answered.
In terms of orders that come in, the orders should be descriptive of what the matter is. Why is that? Because we have a docket that shows on Open Access all of the matters that are set forth in the case from start to finish — from the moment the summons and complaint are filed to the judgment in the case. But if you have something under the case number entitled "Order," that doesn’t tell us what it is. So all of the lawyers that draft orders after the hearing should [have the order] state "Order sustaining demurrer to second amended complaint" or "Order granting summary judgment." If you just put "Order" there the judge has to write it in and that shouldn’t be.
I’m very particular about orders that come in. They should be drafted correctly and not eliminate certain things. For example, if there’s a motion or a demurrer that’s been overruled or a demurrer that’s sustained with leave to amend and I have a reason as to why it’s sustained with leave to amend, that reason should be set forth in the order. But if you have a motion granted, or a motion denied, especially a motion denied, [writing only that] without more does not help the reader. If there is a reviewing court that wants to see why a motion was denied, it may come out in the oral argument or maybe in the tentative ruling, but that’s not the final order. So the final order should always reflect the legal reasoning as to why that decision was made and it’s usually reflected in the minutes or tentative ruling.
Q: Earlier you mentioned personality conflicts. If they are so strong that attorneys become hostile, how would you handle that?
A: What I do is, I tell them we are here today to address a motion for summary judgment, for demurrer, or to compel further discovery and the attorneys should detach themselves from any personal conflicts they do have and just focus on the law. I’m not here to referee a fight. I’m here to weigh and balance.
Sometimes I’ll pass a matter and put them at the end of the calendar. Wait until they calm down a bit and usually they have time to think about it. I’ll address them. Tell them to settle down and stay focused on the matters at hand.
Q: Do you have any advice you’d give to new attorneys?
A: I would say to make sure the senior attorneys review their work before they come in. There may be something that they missed. And to stay focused on the matters that are being moved by the moving parties or [matters being] opposed.
To listen to the judge. Stay focused on one argument. Usually, if we’re talking about causes of action in a demurrer, I want to focus on one cause of action unless another is connected to it and then allow the opposing party to argue.
To not be nervous. We are not there to intimidate. We are here to hear their arguments. And I’m willing to spend extra time if necessary to hear the arguments.
I would be prepared. Make sure arguments are organized. Do not exceed the page limits. Follow the rules of court with regard to filing the papers. Do not make your font smaller just to get more information in. If you need to seek leave of the court to have a longer brief, that’s certainly appropriate, but one should come in ex parte to do that.
Q: Are you involved in any community activities?
A: I’m involved in some. It’s rather limited, but every Saturday from 4:30 to 6:30 I work in my church nursery. I take care of young children between the ages of 3 months and 3 years. It’s usually 10-month-olds to age 3. I will work with them while the parents are going to church and when the services are over, they come and pick them up. We have a great time, but it’s something that I really enjoy. I miss not having that. My son is an adult now. He’s in college. He’s 23 years old. But I believe that it is a mission for me to help in any way I can within the church, so that’s one way I do it. And I enjoy it.