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Born: Sept. 8, 1937Appointed: October 1988 by Gov. George DeukmejianPrevious Judicial Experience: NoneLaw degree: Harvard University Law School, 1961Waiting to argue a pretrial motion, the still-green insurance defense lawyer and her opponent, a famous plaintiffs lawyer, discover their common ground.Each would rather be drawn and quartered than appear before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald Sohigian.“It was all I could do not to say to him, ‘OK, if I just stipulate I’m an asshole, can we get back to the case?’” says the defense attorney.“Exactly,” the plaintiffs lawyer rejoins. “You get the feeling the only way to get on with things is to have a mass stipulation that His Honor is superior to everyone in the courtroom.”They whisper furtively even though the object of their disaffection is in another courthouse. Not that Sohigian hasn’t heard before that he demeans those before him — most notably from the state Court of Appeal, the Los Angeles County Bar Association and the California Commission on Judicial Performance, which once sent him a private warning over a $650 sanction he levied against an attorney.The response of the judge, and his supporters, is that he is such a dedicated public servant that he holds lawyers to a high standard. When Sohigian was up for re-election in 1996 and the county bar gave him one of its rare “not qualified” ratings, other sitting judges rallied to his defense. The fact that he irks lawyers, noted since-retired Judge Robert O’Brien, could be a reason people might want to vote for him.No one disputes that the judge has a keen mind (he earned his undergraduate degree from Yale, his graduate degree from Harvard) and that he is dedicated, working long hours to issue detailed orders.On a recent Friday morning, handling a small law-and-motion calendar during a break in an extended toxic tort trial, Sohigian tells a pair of attorneys they are “trafficking in hot air.” The observation, while demeaning, is also accurate.A second matter turns on a continuance request from a lawyer enmeshed in a legal dispute with his former business partner. The lawyer is also facing a State Bar investigation based on the business partner’s complaint to the Bar about him. The lawyer’s attorney tells Sohigian he needs a continuance because a State Bar investigator told him not to talk about a disciplinary proceeding.The judge isn’t buying it.It is a point of pride that during decades of private practice, Sohigian says he never asked opposing counsel for a time extension. The lawyer can just tell the Bar he was compelled by court order, the judge says as he sets a trial date.The lawyer’s attorney ventures, hesitantly, that Sohigian does not have jurisdiction over the State Bar — then reconsiders, and sits back down.A third calendar item provokes what has become a Sohigian hallmark: the lecture that becomes a monologue, heavy on analogies that demonstrate the judge’s knowledge of, say, furniture making or avant-garde music.Not on display that morning was another Sohigian hallmark: his fondness for taking an attorney step-by-step through a hypothetical in the interest of education. “He’s sort of like Socrates — on speed,” observed veteran plaintiffs attorney Dan Stormer, of Pasadena’s Hadsell & Stormer.One such hypothetical has become a courthouse legend. Discussing the issue of when a person is actually arrested, the judge asked a deputy attorney general, who is a woman, “Let’s imagine that you are a prostitute walking down the street.”The deputy, who asked that her name not be used, wrote the judge to complain, and he phoned back to apologize. At the same time, she says, he seemed genuinely confused about why she should be offended.That incident combined with another — the judge once told the attorney representing a well-dressed black defendant that the court didn’t discriminate between house slaves and field slaves — have led to allegations of gender and racial bias. The judge — who did not respond to several telephone calls seeking comment for this article — denied it in a Los Angeles Times interview, and even some of the participants suggest that such comments are “bizarre” or “off-the-wall,” rather than indicative of any deeply held beliefs.The latest filing in the toxic tort case currently before the judge, Delaluz v. Safety Kleen, BC 219902, bears out the theory that however demanding Ronald Sohigian may be, he is equally rough on everyone.He has sanctioned a juror $150 for being late.

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