As a defense attorney and court commissioner, respectively, Jeffrey Hayden and Susan L. Greenberg are at different positions in the courtroom.
But when it comes to vying for one of two open judicial seats on the June 3 ballot, they are on common ground working to convince voters each is the best person to preside in San Mateo County Superior Court. Each hope to fill the position vacated by Judge Beth Freeman who was appointed to the federal bench.
Both Hayden and Greenberg sat down individually with the Daily Journal to discuss their qualifications and why they are seeking the job. Judicial candidates are slightly hampered in that they cannot discuss concrete details about what they would and would not do on the bench.
In California, judges serve six-year terms and are elected in nonpartisan races. Vacancies between elections are filled by gubernatorial appointments.
Greenberg, 54, is currently a court commissioner whose assignments include traffic, small claims and parole revocations. A commissioner does essentially the same job as a judge but is often given misdemeanors and lower level matters although the presiding judge can assign others as he or she sees fit. Commissioners also cannot vote with judges or preside over budgets and court assignments.
For Greenberg, a former prosecutor and private practice attorney in her 14th year as a commissioner, the list of types of cases over which she has no experience like workers’ compensation is far shorter than those with which she is familiar.
She studied economics and accounting and her law degree is from Hastings College of the University of California.
Hayden, 55, is an attorney in private practice that contracts with the county’s private defender program to represent clients who cannot afford to hire their own attorney. Born and raised in San Mateo County, Hayden received his law degree from the University of Southern California and spent a stint in Los Angeles as a public defender before returning. He also clerked in the district court and served as a judge pro tem. He is certified as a criminal law specialist, volunteers with the local and state bar and is slated to be the local association’s president next year.
So why set that aside for a judgeship?
“This is my way of giving back,” he said. “I want to be working for the community as a whole instead of just the person sitting next me.”
Greenberg touts her 30-plus years of experience, particularly on the bench, as a key reason for voters to favor her. Hayden also points to his experience, saying the wide variety makes him uniquely suited to take the bench.
Technology, judicial backlog
Both Hayden and Greenberg look to technology and new tools as the answer to clearing clogged court calendars, speeding up trials and matters where time can be essential like restraining orders and divorces and improving access to justice.
Greenberg said she is one of the few current tech savvy bench officers and said she has personally pushed for paperless or at least very limited paper in her court. Other judges have chafed at the idea of fileless systems but Greenberg said “we really need to embrace our technology.” For instance, she said, it takes eight man-hours to pull the files for a day’s appearances. Pulling them as needed on a computer saves precious time for staff and those appearing, she said.
The court delays — civil trials scheduled an average of a year out in incremental appearances, for example — is the biggest problem with the local judicial system along with statewide funding cuts that have slashed staff and further crippled the workload, Greenberg said.
If this continues, only those with the financial resources to keep up with the constant stops and starts will have access to justice, she said.
Hayden also touts innovation and says that always turning to those “inside the bubble” already isn’t going to bring the new ideas such e-filing and digitizing documents.
One such suggestion is restructuring how courtrooms are used. Hayden said budget cuts now have judges handling cases pro tem judges once did and courtrooms sit idle waiting for jury trial assignments while other matters are handled. He asks, why not have a calendar at 8:30 a.m., a half-hour early, for those quick turnaround issues so that they don’t back up the trial assignments?
He also said there are law firms willing to volunteer paralegals to help clear the backlog and would encourage court staff and clients frustrated by the slow process to lobby the state Administrative Office of the Courts and legislators to restore needed funding.
If elected, Hayden said he wants to be a team player and tackle any assignment he receives although he does have a preference for juvenile or criminal. Greenberg is also willing to take on juvenile for a few years although she is also open. She also believes herself to have a knack for family law.
Both candidates praise the Superior Court’s alternative courts like the Pathways Mental Health Court, Bridges and Drug Court.
“They are definitely more effective than putting someone in custody,” Greenberg said. “Among other things they let people know that other people care.”
Hayden would like to see them broader in scope, for instance allowing defendants who may live outside San Mateo County although their crimes were committed here.
Although no alternative court or program is 100 percent successful, Hayden said one must look at the benefit of even a small level of positive outcomes. For example, he said, some say Proposition 36, which required certain non-violent drug possession crimes to be punished by probation rather than incarceration, would be an 80 percent failure. That’s still 20 percent of referrals getting substance abuse treatment and not committing new crimes, Hayden said.
The possibility of using more electronic home monitoring as an alternative to jail for defendants awaiting trial is a matter of balancing the new approach with not being out of step with the other judges, Hayden said. The primary decider should be the sheriff, he said.
Greenberg said when asked she almost always approves it but agrees it should be at the discretion of the sheriff. Overseeing parole revocations, Greenberg is familiar with the defendants who remove their GPS ankle monitors but said that isn’t every one and shouldn’t be reason to discount using all available alternatives to incarceration.
“Locking people up has never done anything for them. It protects the public. It doesn’t do much else,” Greenberg said.
One of her most memorable cases was a drug court participant who turned her life around from a drug-addicted and suicidal stripper to someone who ultimately became sober, returned to school and keeps in touch with Greenberg. Those cases are proof that such courts can work, she said.
Although judges must interpret and follow the law, there is room for discretion such as not considering a defendant’s prior criminal strikes during sentencing. Greenberg said she is generally in favor of options in all cases, from weighing criminal strikes to considering other factors. But while there is sometimes the ability to offer one sentence path over another equal sentence — for example one that carries probation versus one that doesn’t — she is steadfast that mitigating factors like immigration or the loss of professional license cannot sway how a judge rules.
“You can’t consider it. It has to be done the right way,” she said.
Hayden said it is a balance of public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation
“I think you have to look at all the guidelines,” he said.
Hayden believes judges need to be more involved outside the courtroom, perhaps not in an official capacity but simply showing the community who they are and make that public connection. He also concedes than any one judge, particularly a new one, can’t singularly institute changes be it budgetary or technologically. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have influence, he said.
“One of the best things I can do is lead by example,” he said. “And I can be one vote in that room of 26.”
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