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DAILY JOURNAL JUDICIAL PROFILE

http://www.dailyjournal.com
© 2009 The Daily Journal Corporation. All rights reserved.
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Marta S. Diaz
Superior Court of California County of San Mateo

Judicial Profile
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Career Highlights: Appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson, 1997; sole practitioner,
Burlingame, 1994-97; deputy district attorney, San Mateo County, 1981-94 Law School:
UC Berkeley School of Law, 1981 Age: 55

By John Roemer
Daily Journal Staff Writer

SAN MATEO - San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Marta S. Diaz still seethes
about the teenager accused of murder who escaped from the juvenile lockup right
outside her chambers window.
"I wish I’d seen him," said Diaz, gazing at the spot where a year ago the youth
boosted himself through netting over a recreation yard and fled to the border. "I’d have
caught the little bastard myself before he got to Mexico."
Diaz, the county’s juvenile supervising judge, just might have nabbed the kid. The
55-year-old jurist is a runner who hits the pavement every morning without fail.
On a recent morning, the judge practically vibrated with vigor as she led visitors
through the county’s new, $148 million youth services center.
"You all been good?" she asked a group of girls on a bench near her courtroom. They
nodded shyly at the judge. "That’s not what I hear," she laughed while heading down the
hallway.
Colleagues give Diaz, the daughter of a Cuban-born jockey, credit for tirelessly
working to promote the funding, creation and design of the center. It opened in 2006 on
a hill overlooking Crystal Springs Reservoir. The center’s staff works with delinquents
and abandoned, neglected or abused youth.
It includes a school for juveniles expelled from other institutions and also features a
30-bed girls justice camp, named for one of Diaz’s mentors, former Judge Margaret J.
Kemp.
The camp integrates probation, education and mental health services for young
women ages 14 to 17, who have been sentenced to stays at the facility of three to six
months.
San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Clifford V. Cretan, who has known Diaz
since both were deputy district attorneys in the 1980s, said Diaz made the center happen.
"She put her heart and soul into building that place," Cretan said. "She worked on
conceptual things, and she spent hundreds of hours on the nuts and bolts of deciding
where the doors and windows would go. It was a huge burden, and she deserves
tremendous credit. It is obvious she has a passion for what she’s doing."
Every two weeks, Diaz holds "girls court" in her courtroom to check on each of the
young women in the facility’s locked wards and to congratulate those about to be
released. Last Wednesday, she called out a girl who’d been caught stealing a ring and
some perfume from a fellow inmate.
"I’m not happy," Diaz told the girl, who sat shamefaced in a courtroom packed with
peers and parents.
"I wasn’t thinking," the girl responded.
"Of course you were thinking," Diaz shot back with echoes of the television’s tough
cookie Judge Judy. "That’s extremely low. I’m very disappointed. Here’s the deal.
Therapy says you’re making progress, but this is a major step backward. The police will
decide whether to take this case to prosecutors."
The tough tone continued during Diaz’s brisk tour through the lockdown wards,
where she seemed to know everyone and greeted staff and kids alike. She told one
young man in a tone both stern and friendly to obey his parents and his lawyer.
"I just sentenced him this morning," Diaz said. "I’m letting him go home to get his
stuff together."
She added, "I like to stroll through the facility. No one is going to think of not taking
care of the kids in the right way if they never know when the judge is coming through."
Taking care of kids has long been a priority for Diaz, especially after the tragic death
of an 8-month-old foster child named Angelo Marinda. He died during an unsupervised
visit with his parents on Christmas holiday 2003.
Marinda’s father was accused of shaking the child to death the child. The boy had
been in San Mateo County’s custody after he was discovered with broken bones just
days after he was born. Diaz blamed herself and two social workers for approving the
Christmas visit, despite warnings from the child’s foster parents about the father.
Responding to the tragedy, Diaz proposed a series of reforms in the county’s child
welfare system in a detailed report she wrote about the case.
Diaz’ voice still fills with emotion when talking about the case.
"Angelo changed everything for me," she said. "That was the worst year of my life. I
was totally consumed that something like that could happen to a child in the county’s
care. How awful."
She said she took a long time to write and edit her report because she wanted to avoid
a judicial tone and instead educate readers about solutions.
What has changed?
"There have been two big shifts in the paradigm," she said. "I see a higher degree of
vigorous advocacy for children in my courtroom. And I am getting a lot more
information from the Department of Social Services. It means a lot more reading and a
lot more hearings, but that’s a good thing."
Diaz tries to spark through her sentencing such soul-searching in the people who
appear in her courtroom.
In one vehicular manslaughter case, she ordered the girl found guilty of the crime to
write a biography of her victim while in lockup.
"I wanted her to get past thinking only about herself," Diaz explained. "I wanted her
to have to interview the family and friends of the victim, to realize what she had done.
At first, the family didn’t want to talk to her. They finally acquiesced, and she wrote a
tremendous biography. She did a lot of time, too."
The attorney representing the family, name partner Jerry E. Nastari of Millbrae’s
Corey Luzaich Pliska de Ghetaldi & Nastari, said he’s become familiar with that
emotional sensitivity during the more than 20 years he’s known Diaz.
"She thinks outside the box, and that biography assignment was an example," Nastari
said. "She was thinking of the victims, and I admired her handling of a very sensitive
and heart-wrenching case. She’s really young at heart in relating to these kids. She helps
change young lives, and I consider that a high compliment to pay to a judge or any
person."
Not everyone is a fan. Diaz is among a number of county officials who have come
under fire recently for referring juveniles to a child psychiatrist who was later charged
with molesting three young male patients. Dr. William Ayres is set to stand trial later
this year.
Local government watchdog Michael G. Stogner, of Belmont, has insisted that
county officials, including Diaz, continued sending patients to Ayre, despite knowing
about the accusations. New York-based journalist and victims’ advocate, Victoria
Balfour, has accused Diaz of protecting Ayres.
Diaz shrugged off the attacks.
"Stogner and Balfour have this little jihad against me," she said. "I don’t care. I know
it’s all bullshit. All will come out."
Her supporters say Diaz is a tough but patient defender of the county’s troubled
children.
"She’s extremely bright, which you can’t say for every judge," said Adam Wells Ely,
a Foster City sole practitioner. "She’s tough on kids, but she understands they’re kids.
She lets them make kid mistakes, to a point. Beyond that point, she’s no-nonsense."

Here are some of Judge Diaz’ recent cases and the lawyers involved:
In re Cailin F., 72777 -homicide
For the defense: Vincent J. O’Malley, sole practitioner, Foster City
For the prosecution: Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth L. Raffaelli, Redwood City
In re Andrew L., 76089 - assault
For the defense: Regina H. Jett, sole practitioner, Half Moon Bay
For the prosecution: Deputy District Attorney Sandra L. Belluomini, Redwood City
In re Julio P., 79156 - robbery
For the defense: V. Roy Lefcourt, sole practitioner, San Francisco
For the prosecution: Deputy District Attorney James A. Wade, Redwood City
In re Kelly K., 72337 - homicide
For the defense: Kathryn L. Yolken, sole practitioner, Half Moon Bay
For the prosecution: Deputy District Attorney Eddie C. Thomas Jr., Redwood City
In re Colleen S., 69355 - vehicular manslaughter
For the defense: Peter F. Goldsscheider
For the prosecution: Deputy District Attorney Eddie C. Thomas Jr., Redwood City
This profile originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily Journal and the San
Francisco Daily Journal on March 9, 2009.
Biography
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CURRENT ASSIGNMENT

Court Name: Superior Court of California County of San Mateo


Title: Judge
Dates: 1997 to Present
Status: Appointed
Date Appointed: February 25, 1997
Appointed By: Governor Pete Wilson

EDUCATION

Law School UC Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law


Location: Berkeley, CA
Date: 1981
Degree: J.D.
College San Francisco State University
Location: San Francisco, CA
Date: 1978
Degree: B. A.

PRACTICE HISTORY

Organization: Sole Practitioner


Location: Burlingame, CA
Dates: 1994 to 1997
Organization: Deputy District Attorney
Location: San Mateo County
Dates: 1981 to 1994

BAR AND RELATED PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES

Organization: San Mateo County Bar Association


Organization: California Public Defender's Association

PERSONAL HISTORY

Sex: F