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Born: May 4, 1950Appointed: March 19, 1996, by Gov. Pete WilsonPrevious work of note: Alameda County Superior Court Judge, 1989-1996Law degree: Hastings College of the Law (1975)On a panel of lions, First District Court of Appeal Justice James Lambden lives up to his mild-mannered name.At oral argument, colleagues J. Anthony Kline or Paul Haerle might skewer an attorney presenting a shoddy argument. Lambden will ask a couple of pointed questions, but he doesn’t seem to relish it.“If he is a little low-key as compared with us, that’s a compliment,” Haerle says.Lambden acknowledges that he is ambivalent about oral argument. “Sometimes the questions we ask are really comments,” he says. “It’s interesting, but not that helpful.”With Kline off to the left and Haerle weighing in as a solid conservative, Lambden can be the swing vote on the panel. Colleagues and attorneys say he uses that role to quietly but definitively assert an independent intellect and strong convictions. Indeed, Lambden — a Republican appointee of both Govs. Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian — has voted against type in some of his most important cases.For example, in Merrill v. Navegar, 75 Cal.App.4th 500, Lambden sided with Kline in holding a gun maker potentially liable for the 1993 shooting spree of a deranged gunman at 101 California St.And in Reno v. Baird, 57 Cal.App.4th 1211, Lambden wrote that a supervisor can be held liable for discrimination. His opinion contradicted an earlier ruling from the Second District, and was later overturned by the California Supreme Court. Similarly, the Navegar case contravened decades of jurisprudence from around the country.“I would certainly say the [Reno] opinion shows that he is courageous and willing to take a stand . . . in the face of near unanimity of federal circuits finding the exact opposite result,” says Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner Thomas Klein, who authored a defense-side amicus before the state Supreme Court.Lambden’s take is not so dramatic. “I didn’t think that was courageous,” he says. “I thought it was a close call.”Though some cases have been controversial, Lambden has hit several matters out of the park. In Scheiding v. Dinwiddie, 69 Cal.App.4th 64, Lambden held that a trial court should not have granted summary judgment to a defendant who never propounded potentially persuasive discovery to an asbestos plaintiff. Scheiding is now frequently cited on appeal.After spending six years as a civil law-and-motion judge in Alameda County, Lambden admits he has become something of a civil procedure geek. “It’s something near and dear to my heart,” he says. “I still speak on it.”In chambers, Lambden isn’t exactly informal, but he avoids any expression of the ego that seems to come with the territory for other justices. He’s forsaken baronial judicial furniture for a lighter wood, arts-and-crafts-style set, and he has decorated his office with mementos of his trips to the Far East, including a large blue fan adorned with swans. He prefers to wear jeans when he can.Four years after his appointment, Lambden says his role still surprises him. “This is more like running a legal publishing business than being a judge,” he says. “I feel like the editor of a small magazine.”Next year, Lambden is slated to serve as chairman of the California Access to Justice Commission, a $10 million, State Bar-affiliated program designed to increase lay people’s access to the courts.If Lambden throws his weight around as a court of appeal justice at all, it’s to push pro bono work. “I take a lot of pleasure out of encouraging lawyers [to do pro bono],” he says. “I tell them it will just make them feel good.”

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