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Court: U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of California Born: July 10, 1953 Appointed: 1997, by the judges of the Northern District Previous work of note: Administrative Law Judge, California Department of Insurance Law degree: Yale University Law School From her 15th-story warren of offices in the Federal Building, Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte has a spectacular view of her past employers at the gilded San Francisco City Hall.Laporte was a deputy city attorney under Louise Renne before being appointed to her eight-year term on the bench in December 1997. In Renne’s office, Laporte spearheaded complex litigation, playing an integral role in initiating the city’s groundbreaking suit against Big Tobacco.But Laporte is now where she wants to be — serving as a magistrate judge in the Northern District of California.Northern California magistrate judges play a bigger role on the court than their equals in most other federal districts. They are on “the wheel,” meaning they are randomly assigned civil cases like their Article III colleagues with lifetime appointments. As long as both sides in a dispute stipulate to having a magistrate judge hear a case — which happens most of the time — the magistrate presides from start to finish. One exception: Magistrates cannot preside over felony criminal trials.Laporte first took the bench four months after her appointment, which after two years with the city. Prior to that, she served as an administrative law judge in the state Department of Insurance for five years. Her first opinion came in the seminal Proposition 103 dispute that prompted the 1994 California Supreme Court decision 20th Century Insurance Co. v. Garamendi, 32 Cal.Rptr.2d 807. Her ruling, upholding the measure rolling back insurance rates, was affirmed.These days her time is taken up refereeing discovery disputes, setting bail and presiding over settlement conferences. So far, she has earned high marks from the attorneys who have appeared before her — especially when it comes to settlements.“She is very incisive,” said Arthur Levy of Levy, Ram & Olson. “And she has good emotional intelligence. She is very good in sizing up the dynamic of a room.”Levy said that if it wasn’t for Laporte, his suit, Stewart v. Baby Bjorn AB, 98-4778, against Swedish baby carrier manufacturer Baby Bjorn would not have settled in May.“It was hotly contested,” Levy recalled. “And other settlement conferences before other judges had failed.”Levy said Laporte got all the parties into her office one day “and wouldn’t let us leave until we had a settlement.”Laporte has had to bone up on criminal law, having spent her entire career practicing civil law. She’s come to find bail hearings, a big part of a magistrate’s job, to be “more of an art than a science.” But she said she has a “good instinct” when it comes to setting bail.“Besides,” she said, “the lawyers are always willing to help you out.” She also relies on bail recommendations from the court’s division of Pretrial Services.Another big part of the job is resolving discovery disputes in civil litigation. “The issues run the gambit from the sublime to the ridiculous,” she said. However, she said she tries to remain patient through even the silliest battles. “It’s a goal of mine to think like a practicing attorney — to be service-oriented,” she said. “You can’t please everybody but hope to give everybody a fair hearing and issue a prompt decision. That’s what I wanted as a lawyer, and I think that’s what all lawyers want.”

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