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Court: Magistrate, U.S. District Court for the Northern District Born: Aug. 1., 1943 Appointed: 1997, by the judges of the Northern District Previous judicial experience: NoneLaw degree: UCLA School of Law The ponytail is gone. So Magistrate Judge James Larson can’t boast about being the only male federal judicial officer to have such a hairdo.“I was getting tired of combing it,” he said.Much was made of the former criminal defender’s ponytail when he was appointed as a magistrate judge. But Larson said he neither grew it nor cut it for any symbolic reasons.“I just wanted to see if I could grow one,” he said.Despite Larson’s claim to the contrary, cutting the ponytail did have a symbolic effect. He is no longer viewed as a criminal defense attorney who has worked on six capital cases and represented such notorious defendants as convicted spy Jerry Whitworth. Instead, Larson is now viewed entirely and solely as a magistrate judge — and a good one at that.When he was appointed in January 1997, he was one of the few defense attorneys — Northern District Judge Claudia Wilken is another — to don a federal black robe. At the time, more than a few prosecutors grumbled that Larson couldn’t help being a defense ally.On the other hand, the defense bar worried that Larson — like other defense attorneys-turned-judges — would bend over backwards with pro-prosecution rulings to prove he could be “fair.”But today he garners praise from both sides for calling criminal cases right down the middle.“You can tell easily that he does not wear the robes lightly,” said criminal defense attorney Edward Swanson, a partner with Swanson & McNamara. “He has proven to prosecutors — and to everybody else — that he’s a good judge to both sides.”Larson is soft spoken and rarely raises his voice. However, lawyers who have appeared before him say Larson does not brook rudeness and rancor.In fact, Larson says — and most agree — that it’s the civil lawyers, as opposed to the criminal law specialists — who are the most uncivil toward each other in court.Lawyers also say Larson’s a smart judge who knows how to get quickly to the heart of a case — especially criminal matters. “He goes through a criminal calendar quickly, but he does without trampling on the defendants rights,” Swanson said.“I treat the defendants like human beings. I treat them with respect,” Larson said. “But I try to keep the length of the proceedings to a minimum.”But Larson also gets kudos for running an efficient civil calendar and for helping settle his fair share of cases.“I feel pretty comfortable handling those cases,” Larson said, noting that he handled civil litigation immediately after graduating from UCLA School of Law in 1968, before getting into criminal law.Still, Larson hasn’t totally forgotten his defense roots. He was instrumental in getting the Northern District magistrates to agree, about three months ago, that they would start admonishing defendants that any guilty plea could effect their immigration status. “The courts have ruled that failing to administer that warning is not a defect [in accepting a plea],” Larson said. “But I always felt uncomfortable” not warning defendants that they faced deportation if they pleaded guilty to a felony.

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