Judge Francisca P. Tisher may be retiring this summer, but that doesn’t mean she’s lost her love of the law or that she won’t be seen at the local courthouse. As the first female judge to be appointed in Napa County, Tisher has presided over criminal, civil, juvenile and family cases for 22 years. Most recently, Tisher presided over the Kayleigh Slusher murder trial, which is set for sentencing in July.
“I think she’s served the citizens of Napa County well and will continue to do so in many years to come,” said Philip A. Champlin, a retired Napa Superior Court judge. “I think she was a very valuable addition to the court.”
“It has been an honor to serve the community of Napa County,” Tisher said in her retirement announcement last week. “I, personally, have been fortunate to have had amazing colleagues on the bench my entire career. Not only have they been great colleagues to work with, but also wonderful friends.”
Tisher said in an interview on Tuesday that she doesn’t know why she was drawn to practice law.
“I never met a lawyer, I didn’t know any lawyers, but it just seemed very interesting,” she said.
Tisher’s parents emigrated from Amsterdam when she was 3-years-old. She spent most of her youth in Santa Barbara, but transferred to Napa High School for her junior year. After graduating, she attended UC Davis and earned her law degree by taking night classes at Empire College.
She practiced family law for about a decade while also juggling family life. Tisher would work at the practice during school hours so she could be with her three children after school. She said she would go into the office one day over the weekend to make up for the lost time.
“It was a little hectic sometimes,” she said. “OK – a lot of the time.”
During this time, Tisher received the Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award for Napa County in 1993.
The fact that her husband was a teacher helped, Tisher said.
Although she was hesitant to become a judge when first asked, she said it has been an “honor” as well as a “great job.”
“No regrets,” she said, “It’s just beat my expectations.”
Raymond A. Guadagni, a retired Napa County Superior Court judge, said Tisher was – in many ways – his mentor.
“I could always bounce things off of her,” he said. Tisher didn’t mind taking a break and being pulled off the bench in order to help a colleague, he said.
“She always kept me up,” Guadagni said. “I don’t think I’ve seen anyone with a finer attitude towards life.”
Described by friends and colleagues as an “optimist,” Tisher said she finds something interesting in every case she has presided over. Even unpleasant cases have their pluses, Tisher said.
“I always like to consider whatever case is in front of me as the most important case because it is for the litigants,” she said. The most difficult cases, though, aren’t for the most heinous crimes, she said. They’re the cases where she has to decide to sentence someone to probation or time in prison.
“It’s a question of balancing the hope that they will be successful against the safety of the community,” she said. The person may be able to turn their life around or they may commit a crime against someone in the community. “You don’t want to make the wrong decision on that,” she said.
One of the most satisfying things about being a judge, she said, is when someone she has sentenced comes up to her in town.
“I run into people who I’ve sentenced, I run into people that I’ve sent to prison, I’ve been to dinner … with my family where one man came up and gave me a big hug,” she said.
Although her family has asked her why someone she sent to jail would have that reaction to seeing her, Tisher said that sometimes jail may be the thing that helps that person move forward in a positive way. “I think we try as best we can to treat people with respect and try to make the best decisions that we can,” she said. “It’s not that it’s ‘We want to send people to prison;’ it’s just that that’s sometimes what’s called for.”
When asked why she is retiring now, Tisher said “It just is time.”
She hopes to take some time off, spend time with her husband, who is already retired, and discover what other areas she might like to pursue. She plans to work judicial assignments as needed in Napa County as well as other places.
Tisher’s retirement from Napa County Superior Court is effective June 17.