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Court: Santa Clara Superior CourtAppointed: November 1997 by Gov. Pete WilsonDate of Birth: March 17, 1941 Previous Judicial Experience:None Law Degree: UCLA School of Law, 1965When Judge William Elfving was appointed to the Santa Clara Superior bench in 1997, the seasoned civil litigator didn’t do any time in family or misdemeanors like most rookie judges. Instead, Elfving strolled into a civil trials assignment where attorneys say his strong civil background was desperately needed. Four years later, he’s supervising civil and juggling law and motion and case management calendars. “He is certainly a very competent judge,” said David Murphy, a partner with Morrison & Foerster who used to practice with Elfving. “There are a lot of civil trial judges who have a lot more experience as a judge who appear to have less understanding of the civil issues.” Elfving has ruled in several high-profile cases, including paring back a series of toxic tort cases brought against IBM by former workers and temporarily enjoining users of the Linux operating system from posting code that unscrambles DVD encryption. While attorneys agree Elfving’s civil expertise and decisiveness are a welcome addition to the bench, some plaintiffs attorneys say the judge tilts toward the defense. “I think he seems very defense-oriented,” said a plaintiffs attorney. “He really pounds the plaintiff to settle.” Plaintiffs lawyers also point to the highly structured case-management orders he uses in complex cases, saying they favor defendants. However, defense attorneys say the judge is following the law and applying federal summary judgment guidelines now adopted in state courts. “That means if you are the plaintiff, you really have to work hard if the other side is going to bring summary judgment. It makes everyone better,” said John Steele, a Fenwick & West partner. “If [plaintiffs] get their evidence together early in the case and survive summary judgment, they then turn to the defense and say ‘I survived Judge Elfving. I have a real case here,’ ” Steele said. He said a summary judgment order in a high-tech trade infringement case sparked a firmwide discussion. “It was the kind of motion you tell your client that state court judges just don’t give. Before, state court judges lacked the fortitude and desire to throw out meritless claims,” Steele said. Elfving, 60, spent his entire career at Hoge, Fenton mostly defending legal malpractice suits. He said he expects attorneys to figure out common ground before coming to court and, if possible, agree on their own case management. “Attorneys should confer and agree as much as possible and leave the real tough problems for us. That’s the only way the system can function efficiently — with the spirit of cooperation,” Elfving said. Attorneys on both sides of the aisle say Elfving is decisive and gets orders out fast. But they say he isn’t one to waste words, which can leave attorneys guessing how he came to his decision. Elfving rarely asks questions during oral arguments. And while the judge is willing to continue complicated law and motion hearings into afternoon sessions, the judge prefers attorneys who get in and out of arguments quickly. “He seems to be well-prepared. He is not afraid to make decisions. I think he is intelligent,” said Fenn Horton III, a shareholder with San Jose’s Pahl & Gosselin. “He’s very cryptic at hearings. It would be nice if he would share a little about what he’s thinking.” Elfving does say he likes oral arguments to be concise and advises attorneys, “if it’s important, put it in writing.” He admits he doesn’t lay out all his reasoning in his orders. “I don’t want to get bogged down because I’ll get behind the curve for the next week,” Elfving said. Larry Wallerstein said Elfving’s formal yet approachable style on the bench and his willingness to work with attorneys trying to settle cases have defined his first years on the bench. “He is reserved. He leaves the lawyers to the lawyering,” said Wallerstein with Schneider & Wallerstein in Los Gatos. “He strikes me as a facilitator, a person who works out problems for attorneys. I think he’s truly there to help.”

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