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Court: First District Court of AppealAppointed: September 1995 by Gov. Pete Wilson Date of Birth: Feb. 27, 1945Previous Judicial Experience: Contra Costa County Superior Court and Contra Costa County Municipal CourtLaw Degree: Hastings College of the Law, 1969The singing fish had to go. “It was driving us crazy. Every time we’d go in that room, you’d hear that stupid song,” says First District Court of Appeal Justice James Marchiano. “So some of us got together and stole it.” Marchiano’s referring to the plastic singing bass that was mounted on fellow Justice Douglas Swager’s office wall. Swager, on the court’s Division One, also has a faux skeleton that sings “Bad to the Bone,” and his co-workers have threatened to kidnap that too. It turns out that Swager, the quiet guy during the court’s oral arguments, is the king of comedy behind the scenes. Not only does he have the comic props, he also pops the jokes during the division’s weekly case conferences. “It’s like law school all over again,” Marchiano says. Don’t get the idea, however, that Swager — a moderate Republican who does community work in his down time and likes to be apolitical on the bench — isn’t a serious jurist. He’s highly respected by his comrades as an adept administrator and intelligent judge. “He brings a real sense of decency and humanity to [case] conferences,” retired First District Presiding Justice Gary Strankman says. Lawyers see that too, describing a well-prepared guy who’ll sit silently at oral arguments and suddenly ask the question that gets to the heart of the issue. “When I ask questions,” Swager admits, “I tend to be kind of focused.” The word used most often by lawyers to describe Swager is “thoughtful,” as in the comments of former State Bar President Palmer Madden, who knew Swager as a superior court judge in Contra Costa County. “He is a real intellectual, a very thoughtful person, somebody who is never satisfied with a superficial examination of a problem,” says Madden, now a mediator in Alamo. “[He] always penetrated deep into the problem and understood the fundamental issues that were at stake.” Swager, 56, is a local boy. Born in Richmond, the first-generation Italian-American got his undergraduate degree in business administration from UC-Berkeley and then went on to graduate from Hastings College of the Law in 1969. He was a deputy district attorney in Contra Costa for three years in the early ’70s, then worked as a civil lawyer for two firms and had his own practice before being named to the county’s municipal court by then-Gov. George Deukmejian in 1985. He was elevated to the superior court in 1987 before being named by then-Gov. Pete Wilson to the appeal court in 1995. Lawyers who have appeared before Swager say he stays low-key and asks few questions. “Clearly, he was very thorough and demonstrated that he was right on top of the case,” says Renee Torres, a staff attorney at San Francisco’s First District Appellate Project who prevailed in a ruling authored by Swager in July. “But he’s just not the kind to show off how much he knows.” Retired Justice Strankman, who was Swager’s boss in the Contra Costa DA’s office in the ’70s, says that may be true, but that lawyers better not underestimate Swager. He’s quietly effective and won’t roll over, even when outnumbered by other justices on his panel. Strankman also believes Swager is not so much quiet as even-keeled. “He’s very unemotional about his approach to the law,” Strankman says. “He’s not like a thermometer. He’s more like a thermostat, and that’s a very good thing for a judge to be.” But don’t think that Swager’s temperature doesn’t rise sometimes. He’s not fond of lawyers who aren’t responsive to the justices’ questions at oral argument, and he’s disturbed by attorneys whose briefs misrepresent the trial record. “It really destroys the attorneys’ whole argument,” Swager says. “It sets the tone for the whole case.” Swager has written his share of rulings in big cases on the appellate bench. Among them are:

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