Judicial Profile: Department 1
Honorable Steven K. Austin
- Biographical Information
- Date of Birth:
- October 14, 1956
- Place of Birth:
- Sumter, South Carolina. Grew up in San Jose, CA
- Bachelor of Arts, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles, 1978. Juris Doctor, Hastings, 1981
- Pre-bench Legal Experience:
- (1) Cole, Scott, San Francisco, CA 1981-1984, Plaintiff oriented personal injury practice; (2) Buresh, Kaplan, Jang, Feller & Austin, Berkeley, CA, insurance defense
- Political Affiliation:
- Judicial Experience
- Appointed to the bench December 1998. First assigned to the Pittsburg Branch handling primarily the criminal calendar. Supervising Judge, Pittsburg Branch, 2000-2001. Family Law judge, Pittsburg Branch, 2002. Supervising Judge of the Civil Division in 2005 and 2006. Served as a member of the Court Executive committee for seven years. Served as Assistant Presiding Judge. 2015 Presiding Judge.
- Pre-bench Civic & Professional Activities
- (1) Board of Directors, Protection Advocacy, Inc., a federally funded organization providing legal services to persons with disabilities, 1991 – 2000; (2) California State Mental Health Planning Council, 1996 – 1998. Association of Defense Counsel, Berkeley-Albany Bar Association.
- Civic & Professional Activities
Appointed to California Commission on Access to Justice – 2005 to present; served as Chair from 2007 to 2009
Selected as member of five person team representing the California Courts at the National Summit for Language Access in the Courts - 2012
Chair of the Court Interpreter Advisory Committee to the Judicial Council - 2011
Access & Fairness Advisory Committee to the Judicial Council – 1999 to 2011(served on its Executive Committee for a number of years)
Worked to establish the Community Homeless Court – 2009
Initiated program conducting DUI Trials at local high schools – 2008
Chair Women of Color in the Courts Conference – 2008
Presenter on plenary panel at the National Judicial Conference on Self-Represented Litigation at Harvard Law School - 2007
Past member of the CJER Fairness Education Committee; served as Chair 2006 & 2007
Initiated the “How to Live in America” program – 2006
Chair Statewide Conference on Language Access to the Courts - 2006
Chair Statewide Conference on Race and Ethnic Bias in the Courts – 2005
Contra Costa County Bar Association Pro Bono Judge of the Year 2005
Alameda-Contra Costa Trial Lawyers Association Trial Judge of the Year 2004
- Continuing Legal Education Faculty
- Judge Austin frequently serves as faculty for judicial and court staff education programs at colleges and for AOC-TV. He has also taught on the faculty for the Statewide Conference for Court ADA Coordinators, and has served on a similar panel addressing regional court ADA-related issues. He has also served as faculty at the Courtroom Clerk Institute held annually at Stanford University.
- Recent Publications
- Various articles for the Contra Costa Lawyer.
- Courtroom Policies
- Judge Austin typically rules from the bench on motions. Judge Austin spends a great deal of time and effort analyzing the salient issues and preparing his rulings, and he places great weight on the papers submitted by the parties. If a tentative ruling is challenged, Judge Austin requests the parties to specify the issues to be argued when calling to contest the ruling and to limit their arguments at the hearing to those points.
- Teleconferencing is allowed for case management conferences and O.S.C.s. with prior court approval. Judge Austin does not permit teleconferencing for law and motion hearings.
- Motions should be prepared following all applicable rules of court and the Code of Civil Procedure.
- Judge Austin encourages parties to be as direct and concise as possible in their points and authorities.
- The Court requires strict compliance with the Discovery Facilitator program procedures.
- Settlement Conferences
- Judge Austin enjoys settlement conferences, as they allow him to assist the parties to explore creative solutions to their disputes. Judge Austin requires clients and insurance carriers to be present for settlement conferences except with prior court approval.
- See Settlement conferences, above.
- In Limine Motions
- Must be filed with the issue conference statement. The motions are usually heard in the morning on the day of trial.
- Voir Dire
- Questionnaires are encouraged and should be submitted with the issue conference as required by the Local Rules. Judge Austin is flexible in allowing counsel to orally voir dire the jury on issues relevant to the case.
- Jury Instructions
- All BAJI and specially prepared instructions are to be submitted with the issue conference statement.
- Parties are encouraged to carefully review their witness lists to ensure the testimony to be offered is necessary and not duplicative. Witness lists must include brief, specific statements of expected testimony for each witness.
- Judge Austin expects the parties and counsel to act professionally and to comply with all applicable rules of court. Judge Austin will order sanctions when appropriate, particularly for serious or repeated violations.
- Exhibits are to be pre-marked. Counsel is admonished to lay the proper foundation.
- Judge Austin places great emphasis on establishing an environment that allows attorneys to effectively try cases and that ensures that clients feel they are being treated fairly.
- Court Reporters & Translators
- Certified translators are required. Follow Local Rules.
- Computers in the Courtroom
- No specific rules.
- Overhead projector and x-ray display available.
- Cameras in the Courtroom
- Case by case basis.
- “Always behave in court as if your mother is sitting in the back row.”