Judge Julia Alloggiamento, Santa Clara Superior Court..Photo by Jason Doiy.11-26-13.
Judge Julia Alloggiamento, Santa Clara Superior Court..Photo by Jason Doiy.11-26-13. (Jason Doiy)

Q: What do you like best about being a judge?

A: The best thing about being a judge—I felt this way a little bit as a prosecutor—is that it’s my job to do the right thing every day. The difference with being a judge versus being a prosecutor is—I still feel that way; it’s my requirement to do the right thing every day, but—now I do it from a position that’s more neutral. I do love the ability to make sure that everybody who is represented in my courtroom, which means the defendant who is there, victims who may or may not be in my courtroom and the community in terms of community safety concerns, all get the best decision I can give them. And I love that. I think it is a very satisfying job to have to be able to say, “It is my job to go in and strive for justice every day.”

Q: Anything you like least?

A: I think over here in drug court, it’s a very heavy calendar assignment. On our review days, a lot of our reviews are very quick. People are doing well. I check in with them and send them on their way. There are a lot of very complicated issues that people over here are facing, and because it is such a heavy calendar, you don’t always have the time to sit there and really parse through what is the best thing for this individual. That can be frustrating.

Q: This is a collaborative process, correct?

A: Yes.

Q: So with the defendant, there are usually specialists there to advocate for them?

A: Unfortunately, we don’t have as many resources in drug court as we probably could use. Department 64 with Judge Manley does a lot of high-level and specific types of cases dealing with mental health, so they have more resources in that department. Over here, we are typically working with the defendant on review calendars and probation. We will get input from treatment facilities and pretrial services that does the testing, and we can make a plan from that, but in terms of referring out to social services, other case managers, we don’t have as many of those resources as I would like to make a great plan for everybody. But we do utilize people, it’s just that they are not all present here.

Q: How often are attorneys in these proceedings?

A: It does depend on the proceedings, because we go arraignment through prelim, so anything that is truly in the setting where the case is not resolved yet, they have to take a plea. Then, of course, the defendant will be represented. The district attorney will be here. Once they’ve pled and we’re at the review stage, the district attorneys are usually not present because it’s really probation giving input on how they’re doing and other programs. [Then it's] us making a plan and the court’s determination as to whether they’ve successfully completed or if they should be terminated because they failed or if they are unavailable or unamen­able to treatment.

Q: When you do meet with the attorneys and defendant at the arraignment process or in developing a plea, how can they help with the plea or a program?

A: I think anytime the attorneys come back with really knowing their defendant—obviously this is for defense attorneys—knowing the client well enough to give a little background of what struggles they’ve had. What would really help them? Does this person really need residential treatment? And to be open to always doing what is best for that person. The process over here is somewhat where you often start with what is often the lowest level of treatment. And then work your way up to perhaps residential. There are people who come in at arraignment, and I know from their history that they need residential, but the process is such that perhaps we are going to let them try outpatient.

I’d rather not go through the process of trying and failing if we can all come to an agreement. But I understand that for the defense attorney, it is sometimes going to be difficult to convince their client: “You really need a higher level of care now.” And we don’t want to use resources, such as residential treatment, for people who don’t need it.

What I tell defendants in my courtroom is, “Prop 36 is an opportunity for you. It is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s intended to make a change in your life for the rest of your life.” And I try to work with them in a way that will do that. Some of them are ready, and some are not.

Q: How about hostility in your courtroom? Do you tend to experience that with the defendants? It seems as if in this setting it would be less between parties.

A: With defendants, it really varies. I will say, more often than not, I actually have people who are happy that we’ve given them the opportunity. Some of them have never had the opportunity to do treatment. And if they are willing participants, they will benefit from it. There are, of course, people who are not ready who feel that they are going to perhaps use this to manipulate the system, and it does catch up with them. It may not the first time they do it, but ultimately, it does. That is where there will be some hostility—If they are living the addictive lifestyle, not ready to be honest, and it catches up with them. They will be called on it in court, and there will be push-back.

It’s definitely mixed over here. I try to make sure every person understands what I’m doing and how I got to my decision. That way, even if they disagree with it, they know why. I take very good notes and so, if they say, “Judge, I’ve been doing everything you asked,” I can look back for the last six months and say, “Well, no, you didn’t. Here’s why.” And give them every violation they had, the reasons why. And it does help them understand that they are responsible, ultimately, for what happens to them. That’s my goal—even if they don’t like my decision, they understand it.

Q: When you have your felony trial assignment next year, if things become heated between the parties, what would you do to bring them to order?

A: I will say that in my experience so far, because I have had several trials, there was only one time where it did get quite heated. I will take steps that are necessary to bring that under control between the attorneys. At the forefront, I have expectations that everybody in my courtroom is going to be professional, especially when a jury is there. [Be] courteous to each other and to the jury. If that is not happening, I will speak to the attorneys first, let them know I see a problem, and hopefully that should be enough to turn it around. One time, I had to put orders in place about how they should behave. And it became a much stricter and more formal environment in the courtroom because we just had to bring it back to that level of professionalism. That did work to bring the hostility down, but it was unfortunate, and I hope it never happens again.

Q: Do you have any advice for new lawyers?

A: What I tell new attorneys when they ask for advice is, sort of what we were talking about before, which is, your reputation will carry with you. And it’s very important early on to think about that in everything that they do. So, their reputation with the court, and at least as important, their reputation with other attorneys.

To make sure that they are prepared. To make sure that they are respectful and to make sure that they are reasonable in what they want on either side. Of course, in criminal, prosecutors [must be] reasonable in what they are looking for. It is perfectly acceptable to be asking for a substantial sentence on a case that warrants it, but if you ask for it on every case, you will lose credibility. On the defense side, [it's] perfectly acceptable to do the best thing for your client—that’s the expectation every single time—but if you come in and say, “My client is innocent,” every time, then the time that they are, you are going to get lost in that.

Pick the appropriate cases to make the strongest argument [and] represent—either your client because you are the defense bar or the People because you are the prosecutor—to the fullest, but be reasonable.

Q: Do you see any common mistakes that experienced attorneys are making?

A: In my courtroom, because of the nature of it and the calendar assignment, I really haven’t seen too many mistakes made by experienced attorneys. I guess my only comment in that regard would be, perhaps, the very experienced attorneys—especially on a calendar assignment, sometimes, for the defense—can have so many individuals they are dealing with that I have seen on occasion the client feeling that they haven’t had enough time or they don’t understand.

If that happens in my courtroom, I will take the time. I want to make sure everyone understands what is happening, like I said, even if they disagree with it. I want to make sure they understand the process.

Sometimes [with] experienced attorneys working with another experienced attorney in court, we want to make sure the people who don’t appear every day in court also know what’s going on. That includes the defendants, family members who may be sitting in court. Obviously, our time is limited, but usually a few short sentences to make sure they understand what is going to happen next is worth the time.

Q: Are you involved in any community activities?

A: Yes. I’m the chair of our court community outreach committee. In terms of my work here, it’s something that I feel very strongly about. It’s very important. We do a lot of outreach to schools on law-related education. We do outreach to the community. We give opportunities for people to see the courtroom and do mock trials.

We recently had Educators Day, where we invited about 90 administrative educators—principals, superintendents—from the county to come hear about issues that are related to their students and the justice system. So, juvenile justice. We had someone speak on cyberbullying issues. We had someone speak on dependency. All of our speakers were either judges who have expertise in that area or other partners we work with who were able to provide expertise, and it was a great day.

I do a fair amount of speaking when invited. I hear that I’m going to be in charge of our high school mock-trial program next year. I’m taking it over from one of our judges who has been doing it for years and is ready to pass the torch. And then just on a personal level, I’ve been the assistant coach for a soccer team for several years. I enjoy that because I get to work with young girls who get their outlet through sports and hopefully inspire them to do that throughout life.