COURT: San Francisco Superior
APPOINTED: 1995 by Gov. Wilson
LAW SCHOOL: Santa Clara University Law School
PREVIOUS EMPLOYMENT: Research attorney, San Francisco Superior Court (1979-1980); S.F. district attorney’s office (1980-1986); Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker (1986-1993)
PLACE OF BIRTH: Urbana, Ohio
POLITICAL PARTY: Republican
Q. What do you enjoy most about being a judge?
A. I enjoy making decisions, instead of having to argue for the decision.
Q. What do you enjoy least about being a judge?
A. Especially in this particular assignment, law and motion, there are some unfortunate, difficult decisions that have to be made. The landlord-tenant area, for example. Some of the decisions put an end to cases. Summary judgment motions — they dispose of the case, and it’s difficult to do that. But you do what the job requires. So that’s what I least enjoy.
Q. What advice do you have to offer to new attorneys?
A. Protect your reputation. Not only in your dealings with other attorneys and the court, but also in what you put in your pleadings. Do your very best to be at all times accurate and ethical.
Q. What are some mistakes that you commonly see even experienced attorneys making?
A. Stretching the truth in their pleadings, mis-citing cases, stretching the facts, citing facts that are not supported by the record.
Q. How do you deal with situations where an attorney does not provide courtesy copies, or provides an incomplete set?
A. In this department, courtesy copies are extremely important. They need to be delivered directly to the department. If you leave them downstairs, they may or may not make it upstairs, and we cannot find the originals. Usually, we will put the matter over for counsel to provide courtesy copies with a cover letter reflecting the new hearing date. We do have the option of just taking the matter off calendar. We do that rarely, but it is an option. And it’s one that I’ve considered for several of the law firms that are the worst offenders.
Q. What advice do you have for an attorney who is preparing to argue a motion in front of you?
A. Please don’t repeat what’s in the papers. Make your argument brief and to the point. And be prepared, if the other side is going to make an argument, to rebut the argument if you want a complete record. I think it’s important that the record be maintained and be complete. So if counsel asks me if I would like any response, if I think it’s a case that requires a full record, I will say, “Yes,” so they should be prepared to address whatever points were raised by the opposing counsel.
Q. If an attorney becomes hostile or overly confrontational during an argument, how do you handle that?
A. It doesn’t happen often, fortunately. And typically, it’s directed to opposing counsel, so I’ll remind them that it’s their opportunity to speak with the court, to speak to me and not to opposing counsel. And if they get really snippy, then I will admonish them and put and end to it. And, fortunately, they’ve always stopped whatever the behavior was.
Q. When and how would you like attorneys to submit proposed orders?
A. I really like to have a proposed order with the initial paperwork. And then if it goes to hearing, I would like the proposed order to track the tentative decision. Counsel will also sometimes prepare orders of what they would like the court to rule, because I could change my mind. But the sooner the order is prepared the better. We are currently, unfortunately, with staff shortages, facing a long delay in processing orders after the fact. So the better practice is to bring the order to the hearing and have the order definitely submitted with your paperwork. And there are times, in some of the larger motions, where I will look for a proposed order because I want to see what they would like the ruling to be.
Q. When ruling on a motion, do you issue written opinions?
A. Not often in this department. Unfortunately, I don’t have time. And I find when I do take something under submission and issue a written opinion it really delays the progress of the case. I just can’t get them out quickly enough. I will issue opinions when I have to, when a statement of decision is requested for a matter such as a writ, where they are entitled to a statement. I may ask one or both parties to prepare proposed statements. And there have been times when, just on orders that I’ve taken under submission, I ask counsel to prepare proposed orders. And then I’ll look at that. That does speed things up somewhat.
Q. What are you looking for when you review a brief?
A. The first thing I’m looking for is what is the relief requested. Sometimes it’s buried in the brief. I like to see the request up front, and I also like to see it at the end. And I also like to see something that directs me in terms of the law and the facts. I want the law cited accurately and the facts cited accurately. I’m looking for declarations, admissible evidence, declarations that support the positions. And I’m interested in not seeing counsel overreaching in their brief. Again, they should be accurate.
Q. What impact has technology had on litigation?
A. I haven’t had the experience of animation, or any of that. But what I’ve noticed in some of the trials that I did most recently, I noticed the use of the videotaped deposition. And with good, selective use of the videotaped deposition, that can really make or break a case. Because you’ve got the deponent there on the screen, and right in front of everyone saying a certain thing that might not be what they’re saying at trial. I think that that’s an extremely useful tool. It shouldn’t be overused though, because if a large part of the presentation of evidence is videotaped depositions, the lights are low, the room is dark, and it’s sometimes difficult for the jurors to remain engaged.
Q. How do you feel about telephonic appearances at hearings?
A. I allow them, and we’re set up with CourtCall to take them. Usually, on any given calendar, I’ve got one or two telephonic appearances. I think that they’re a time and money saver for counsel. I think that they’re very useful. I personally prefer to see counsel in court because there are times when it’s easier for me to engage them if they can see me and I can see them. And I know it’s easier for the court reporter. Also, with CourtCall, it’s got an aspect to it that if the person doesn’t stop talking, I can’t interrupt them and break in with a question. And there are times when people get so excited and they are talking too quickly for the court reporter to pick it up. And as soon as they take a breath, I have to break in and say, “Would you mind repeating that last minute?” So it can make for a more difficult record, but it’s certainly a useful tool.
Q. What are the most common reasons for sanctioning an attorney?
A. It’s usually related to discovery. I apply sanctions very cautiously because I think counsel should try their cases and prosecute or defend their cases to the best of their ability. But if sanctions are warranted, I’m not hesitant in awarding them.
Q. Is there anything in particular that you’d like to get out there for practitioners who are coming in to your department?
A. I think it’s now official that at the end of August, law and motion will be taking discovery. So I will have the even-numbered cases, and the other law and motion department will have the odd-numbered. That will be a change for people to accommodate. And again, it’s based on the need to cut back our resources. It’ll be interesting probably for the first week. So that’s something that I think will be useful for the people to know out there. And they also should be reminded to check the tentative rulings the day before, and notify the other side if they want a hearing. Even experienced practitioners forget that.
— Chris W. Vincent