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Court: U.S. Magistrate judge for the Northern District of California Born: May 20, 1955 Appointed: 1998, by the judges of the Northern DistrictPrevious judicial experience: Pro tem judge, San Francisco Superior CourtLaw degree: Columbia University School of Law A good gauge of a magistrate judge’s reputation among lawyers is the number of trials he or she presides over.That’s because the parties have to stipulate to having a magistrate judge run their trial. If one side or the other balks, then their case gets heard by a district court judge.Chief Magistrate Judge Edward Infante, for instance, hears more trials in the district than any other magistrate.So it speaks volumes that both sides in a wrongful death case agreed to have Joseph Spero, a freshly minted magistrate judge, preside over their trial. The case resulted in a verdict for the defendant, the city and county of San Francisco.“That was a terrific experience,” Spero said of the case, one of his first after assuming his new role in April, six months after being selected. Spero is looking forward to handling more trials, something that will undoubtedly occur frequently in a district where the magistrate judges get cases randomly assigned to them off the “wheel,” just like district court judges. That practice is followed by only a few of the country’s 94 federal districts.According to Spero’s legions of friends, lawyers would do well to stipulate to having him on their cases.Speaking at his induction ceremony in June, long-time friend Jan Little — a partner at Keker & Van Nest — recalled how she sat through one of Spero’s first calendars.“Joe was plenty firm and efficient,” Little said. “But what I liked was that he spoke to prosecutors and defense lawyers, defendants, girlfriends of defendants, probation officers and marshals all in the same direct, honest and comfortable way that is so Joe — a calm talk that reaches people.”Known for his trademark bow ties, Spero is a smart guy with an infectious, self-effacing sense of humor.For instance, he quips that the Democratic downtown powerhouse firm of Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass — where he was a partner before his appointment to the bench — “appears to be thriving since I left.”Spero is far from the first Coblentz partner to reach the bench. Before him, the most recently named judge from the Coblentz ranks was Charles Breyer, who was named to the Northern District bench in 1997.Spero is also working hard to avoid the inevitable social isolation that most judges experience when they take the bench.“I try to see friends as consistently as before,” Spero said, while conceding that “people treat you a little differently” after getting a judgeship.“Sometimes I don’t know if they’re laughing because they think my joke is funny or because I’m a judge,” he said.But he adds quickly that “people who have known me don’t treat me any differently,” and that includes his wife Sarah and two children, Hannah and Mark, who he clearly dotes on.“First of all,” Little said of Spero’s Larkspur home, “there are children’s toys everywhere.”When a news photographer was snapping his picture, he asked that it be taken in front of a portrait of his children hanging in his chambers.Spero said he has always aspired to the bench, having first applied for a magistrate judge opening eight years ago.“I always thought that being a judge is trying to do the right thing all of the time,” he said. “I was always slightly uncomfortable being an advocate for one side.”

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