COURT: San Mateo County Superior
ELECTED: June 2, 1992
DATE OF BIRTH: Nov. 25, 1954
LAW SCHOOL: Yale Law School, 1979
PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: San Mateo County Municipal Court
It’s a busy Thursday morning in San Mateo County Superior Court, and Alameda lawyer Mark Intrieri is begging Presiding Judge Mark Forcum for a continuance in a defamation case.
It’s a tough sell because Forcum is well known for being stingy with continuances, preferring to keep his calendars current by moving cases along at a steady pace. Granting continuances clogs the wheels, and he feels that this case, in the court since November 2002, is a bit old.
“We’ve given you plenty of time to do the things you need to do prior to trial,” Forcum tells the Chapman & Intrieri partner. “This is not the way I like to see cases handled.
“It’s contrary to the way I like to do things.”
In the end, however, Intrieri convinces Forcum that a continuance could help him settle the case and avoid trial. The judge sets a new trial date of June 7.
Afterward, Forcum, who arrived in court prepared to deny Intrieri’s request, says he changed his mind because he felt the guy was being sincere. He says he and Assistant Presiding Judge George Miram aren’t inflexible with lawyers.
“If they disagree [with the preliminary ruling],” Forcum says, “they can come down and try to persuade us we’re wrong.” Intrieri did just that.
Forcum, 49, is widely regarded by local lawyers and fellow judges as an administrative genius. Since taking over as PJ in January 2003, he has all but eliminated a hefty backlog of misdemeanor and civil cases.
In addition, he is credited with bringing the court into the 21st century with an interactive online Web site that helps lawyers and citizens alike navigate the court system. He has made jury service less onerous and instituted programs educating students about the judicial system, providing treatment rather than jail for substance abusers, and lunching with lawyers on a regular basis to address their needs.
In his spare time, he’s helping the court accommodate the murder trial of Scott Peterson.
“He has changed the way business is done in San Mateo County,” says Judge Miram. “I haven’t been as impressed by any other judge in my lifetime.”
Born in San Francisco, Forcum was raised in Daly City, with two school principals for parents. He graduated magna cum laude from Yale University in 1976, and Yale Law School in 1979. Forcum was admitted to the California Bar in 1980, then spent a year handling labor law cases for what was then known as McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen.
He was a deputy district attorney for San Mateo County for six years before being appointed to the San Mateo County Municipal Court in 1987 by then-Gov. George Deukmejian. He was elected to the superior court in 1992, and has served as presiding judge three times.
Among the things that impress Forcum’s fellow judges is his hands-on approach. He doesn’t just sit in an ivory tower, handing out assignments and avoiding the dirty work. He dives in, handling every thing from the master calendar to law and motion to domestic violence and juvenile hearings. And on most afternoons, he handles ex parte motions.
On that recent Thursday morning in Redwood City, the judge handled not only Intrieri’s request for a continuance but also dealt with restraining orders and name changes.
“He’s right in there doing what we all get to do,” says San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Joseph Bergeron. “He takes his turn in the rotation. So he sets that kind of leadership tone.”
“I just like to see the court work at a level that the public will be proud of,” says Forcum.
That’s why he and Miram have lunched with lawyers around the county nearly 40 times in 14 months — to find ways to improve the system. And that’s why he’s made it possible for prospective jurors — whom he calls “the unsung heroes of the judicial system” — to use laptops to work and surf the Internet while in the jury waiting room.
“We thought that was more respectful of people’s time,” Forcum says.
In fact, the toughest part of San Mateo taking on the Peterson trial, Forcum says, was ensuring that jurors and others using the courthouse weren’t inconvenienced. Overflow parking was arranged at a nearby K-mart, and prospective jurors were not only shuttled to the courthouse but also provided with maps to get around.
“We try to think this stuff through,” he says, “to be juror friendly.”
“He works extremely hard for the people of San Mateo County,” says Millbrae criminal defense lawyer Linda Bramy. “And I wish they knew it.”
Local lawyers know it.
Michael Danko, a personal injury lawyer in San Mateo, recalls needing one hour and 45 minutes for a case on a morning when the judge was up to his ears in criminal, civil and ex parte matters. After hearing Danko’s reasoning, Forcum OK’d the time and heard the case, as deputies, orange-suited criminal defendants and others waited their turn.
“The client certainly appreciated it. Everyone appreciated it,” the O’Reilly, Collins & Danko partner said. “We felt we’d gotten the best measure of justice we believe we could have.”
For all his accomplishments, Forcum seems most proud of the programs that retrain substance abusers to be part of the working world and provide high schoolers with a feel for the judiciary. The latter, he says, educates kids about the judicial system while showing that judges “are part of the community and care about people.”
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