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Name: Phyllis Jean Hamilton Court: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Appointed: 2000, by President Bill Clinton Born: June 12, 1952 Law degree: Santa Clara University School of Law Previous judicial experience: U.S. Magistrate 1991-2000. Alameda County Municipal Court commissioner 1985-1991. U.S. Merit Systems Protection administrative law judge 1980-1985. Phyllis Jean Hamilton is what you might expect of a Midwesterner: modest and genial. On a day in which the federal building’s air conditioning system wasn’t working, Hamilton told a jury, without a hint of sarcasm: “We’ll take a break this morning and try to find a fan for you all because we want to make sure you’re able to stay awake.” Until Jeffrey White is affirmed, Hamilton is still the Northern District’s junior judge, having been elevated from her magistrate position by President Clinton in 2000. But she doesn’t lack for experience. For all but five years in her career, she has served as a judicial officer in some capacity, which shows another typically Midwestern trait: determination. She started in 1980 as a U.S. Merit Systems Protection administrative law judge. Then she was an Alameda County court commissioner. In 1991, she became a U.S. magistrate — and almost 10 years later, lifetime tenure came calling. Lawyers say Hamilton is very middle of the road. Not too flashy. Fair to criminal defendants — and prosecutors, too. “I’m not going to force you to go forward with the case today, seeing that you have no familiarity with the issues,” she told one federal prosecutor recently who was appearing in a pinch. A few big decisions have come from her courtroom. She forced Enron Corp. to honor the terms of its contract with California’s state universities during the power crisis. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals suspended Hamilton’s preliminary injunction, but the case settled shortly after. The arguments in that case came at the height of the state’s power crisis. Attorneys went back and forth, with Hamilton allowing the lawyers to exhaust their arguments before ruling from the bench. “It was apparent to me that she came out to the hearing well-prepared and loaded with questions,” said Douglas Young, a Farella Braun & Martel partner who represented the universities. “I’ve never seen her cut anyone off in an argument,” Young added. Though Young said Hamilton appeared to have read the contract carefully, another practitioner in a separate case said he was disappointed that Hamilton hadn’t personally reviewed all the materials submitted. In another ruling, Hamilton forced Visa International to turn over records of customers who have cards through foreign banks, part of an IRS sweep of tax dodgers. She also dismissed a securities fraud class action under the “safe harbor” provisions of 1995′s Private Securities Litigation Reform Act. Hamilton ruled that the cautionary language used in the company’s SEC filings insulated it from a suit, one of the few cases to have been so dismissed. Hamilton said she wants lawyers in her court to be efficient, citing a caseload of 500. Lawyers should also pick up a copy of the local rules of court. She tries to get parties to resolve small disputes without having to rule on the issue, a holdover from her days settling cases as a magistrate. She said it’s easier to do when lawyers are in the same room with each other. Civility is a theme. One of the disappointing trends, she said, is the bare-knuckle manner in which civil cases are litigated. “It really seems like so much of the cases these days are filled with rancor,” Hamilton said. Blustery overconfidence is also a no-no. Hamilton said she would like “some recognition on the part of the counsel that no case is a slam dunk. “Sometimes I read in a brief: ‘It is absolutely clear that �’ and I know that it isn’t.” Backing up Young’s point, Hamilton said she won’t put lawyers on the clock. But she does appreciate brevity, especially in briefs. “Counsel really need to concentrate on being precise,” Hamilton said. She said she will come to a hearing with questions she needs answered, and the right answers can lead to a quick resolution. “Oftentimes I rule from the bench,” Hamilton said.

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