Judge Katherine Feinstein, newly elected presiding judge of San Francisco Superior Court, answered some questions this morning on challenges facing the court and whether she’d be interested in being appointed DA. Here’s that conversation, edited for brevity.
Q. Let’s talk about budget issues.
A. I’ve been on the bench 10 years, and I think this has been the most painful year in terms of court operations, judicial and staff morale, and public service. The uncertainties are wide and deep.
We will receive an amount of money from the state through the AOC, and that’s the money, basically, that we will have to run our court. We have a plan for virtually any possible amount that we will possibly receive. But obviously the less we receive, the more I think people are going to be unhappy with the plan’s execution.
Of course I’m relieved and delighted that we didn’t have to go to a large layoff plan. People, though, shouldn’t forget that what we are doing in the interim is not filling any positions. So we are operating at a staff shortfall of 15 percent, and that’s going to have an impact.
Q. What does that staff shortfall mean?
A. We have been fortunate in that what I think the public would perceive is more of a slowdown than a cut. We still are offering all the programs and all the services that we offer, it’s just going to take longer.
Q. What’s the impact on judges and staff?
A. We are sharing clerks, we are sharing court reporters. That’s going to continue, and that’s hard for judges – you develop a relationship with “your” clerk and “your” court reporter, and that is going to shift.
And – it’s true of judges and it’s also true of clerks – not everybody’s comfortable doing everything. You do get comfortable with your courtroom and the demands of your courtroom, then you find yourself for two or three days in a different courtroom, and I think it’s stress-provoking.
Q. What are some big things you can see coming for the court?
A. I have my eye on a couple of projects for next year that I will be more than delighted to talk about once the budget is settled. I don’t want to start putting things out there if I’m going to be unable to do anything with them. But I have some ideas for court programs or court approaches that I think will improve our efficiency.
Q. What was the assistant P.J. position like?
A. I feel very fortunate because Judge McBride has included me in many things that I don’t think prior presiding judges included their assistants in. There are just aspects of court operation that, as a judge, you have no idea about. Everything from how a traffic ticket is and can be paid off to what do you do about sewage bubbling up and coming down, to facilities security, union issues – things you just don’t think about as a regular line trial judge. I’m absolutely confident that I’m prepared to hit the ground running in January. Does that mean I won’t make mistakes? No, but I am prepared.
Q. How is the court CEO search going?
A. It’s going well. We did not hire a recruiter or a headhunter, and we did the outreach on our own. We received a surprising number of applications from qualified applicants. We’re actually having a meeting this afternoon to talk about the interview process and who’s doing what.
Q. People mention your name in talking about who might be appointed as DA if Kamala Harris wins the attorney general race. Is that something you would be interested in?
A. No one has discussed that with me. I have cast my net and I’m committed to this court. I learned long ago never say never, but this is not the first time this has been talked about and I am where I am. I am where I am very intentionally. My heart is very much with this court. I want to do the best job that I can do as its leader. I think I owe that to my colleagues.