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Court: First District Court of Appeal Appointed: April 29, 1946 Date of Birth: Oct. 10, 1997 Previous Judicial Experience: Alameda County Superior Court Law Degree: University of San Francisco School of Law Justice William McGuiness listened intently as a Palo Alto lawyer argued that his teen-age client couldn’t possibly have violated a state law against aiding a suicide. The victim survived, the attorney said, and there’s no law on the books preventing someone from assisting someone who fails to kill herself. Maybe so, McGuiness agreed as he leaned across the bench, but what’s to prevent him and his fellow First District Court of Appeal panelists from remanding the case so jurors could assess guilt for attempting to break the law? Last week, the court issued its ruling in People v. Ryan N., 01 C.D.O.S. 9101, and McGuiness, who authored the opinion, had done just what he forewarned. There’s no reason, he wrote, to treat the crime of assisting a suicide any differently than murder or robbery “in which a failure to complete the crime may yet be chargeable as a criminal attempt.” McGuiness had honed in on what he considered the core issue during oral arguments and hadn’t let go. It’s a trait he exhibits often, some say, pushing lawyers away from useless arguments and toward concepts on which his ruling will turn. “Let’s move on,” he told one lawyer at the Ryan D. argument. “Let me get right into this with you,” he advised another, saying moments later, “Let’s approach it this way” when she didn’t seem to get what he was after. “He’s inclined to give the advocates time to structure their arguments,” says Justice Carol Corrigan, who serves on McGuiness’ panel and has known him for years. “But he will elicit the information he wants.” McGuiness, 55, was appointed to the appellate bench in 1997 by then-Gov. Pete Wilson and became presiding justice of Division Three a year later. A 1972 graduate of the University of San Francisco School of Law, he began his career as an Alameda County deputy district attorney, served a short stint in the U.S. attorney general’s office in Washington, D.C., and joined Alameda County Superior Court in 1986. McGuiness, a tall man with silver hair, is what Corrigan calls an “unfailing gentleman.” And that comes across in the courtroom as he listens quietly, politely injecting questions at appropriate times. He says he likes lawyers to be directly responsive to the questions asked by the justices and to be “painstakingly accurate” in making sure their argument agrees with what they’ve said in their briefs. “You need to stay with that argument,” McGuiness advises, “and not go beyond it.” He also likes lawyers to be selective with their arguments — “If an issue is not meritorious, it’s often wise to concede that and move on” — and if arguing for a new rule of law to offer suggestions about how it should read. “How should we write it?” McGuiness says. “What should it say? Often people haven’t thought that through.” Lawyers who have appeared before McGuiness say he’s very well prepared. “He clearly had the facts of the case down,” recalls Sherri Sokeland Kaiser, who argued and won a case in which McGuiness ruled in July that the California National Guard cannot discharge officers based on sexual orientation, unless their job overlaps with the U.S. National Guard. Kaiser, an associate at Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin, says McGuiness “focused on the issues that were of particular interest to him.” Michael Franchetti, a Sacramento solo practitioner who argued and won a libel case before McGuiness’ panel, says he was impressed by how the justice understood the issues completely and “got right to the point — which is what you want in an appellate judge.” Joel Zeldin, a partner at Shartsis, Friese & Ginsburg, recalls how well McGuiness, who is the court’s acting administrative presiding judge, grasped budgetary issues. “He was very sensitive to the issues of running a city,” says Zeldin, who successfully defended the city of Emeryville against an employment discrimination claim. In Zeldin’s case, Muzquiz v. City of Emeryville, 79 Cal.App.4th 1106, McGuiness clarified what burdens of proof are necessary for discrimination claims at trial as opposed to summary judgment. He lists it among his most significant rulings, along with Kaiser’s Holmes v. California National Guard, 90 Cal.App.4th 297, and Franchetti’s Smith v. Maldonado, 72 Cal.App.4th 637. In Maldonado, McGuiness dismissed a libel action brought by a couple of men who claimed defamation when opponents of their card-room venture highlighted a paragraph in a newspaper that contained their names. The story was about their attorney being indicted for trying to bribe a legislator. “Emphasis of true facts does not, by itself, create a defamatory innuendo,” McGuiness held. Corrigan concurred with McGuiness in all three, but says she and Justice Joanne Parrilli, who’s also on Division Three, don’t hesitate to disagree with him. Their differences are handled congenially, partly because the three have common backgrounds on the courts in Alameda County. “You are not only colleagues, but friends,” McGuiness says. “You do not hesitate to speak frankly.” Parrilli calls McGuiness “unflappable.” “He just is this steady presence, always thinking ahead,” she says. “I imagine he would be a great chess player.” Both Parrilli and Corrigan also say McGuiness — an Oakland Raiders season ticket holder who follows all kinds of professional and collegiate sports — is just fun to be around. Parrilli loves going out with him “in pursuit of the ideal hamburger,” while Corrigan claims he has a wonderfully wry wit, “kind of like a really good dry martini.” And for now they don’t have to worry about losing McGuiness. He has no higher aspirations. “I really enjoy this job,” he says. “And I’ve got lots of challenges right here. It’s a very good job to have.”

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