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Born: Nov. 3, 1941Appointed: 1997 by President Clinton Previous Judicial Experience: NoneLaw degree: Boalt Hall School of Law It may take a while for the marijuana smoke to clear from Judge Charles Breyer’s courtroom.After two years on the bench, the U.S. district judge is still looking to define his career beyond the suit over Proposition 215, California’s medical marijuana initiative. In his first high-profile case, Breyer sided with the government.But to use the case as an emblem of the judge is a mistake: Several important rulings have been obscured by Prop 215, including a halt to a development in Yosemite and a decision upholding the right of student organizations to use student fees for political lobbying.And beneath the monogrammed shirts and bow ties is a litigation warhorse whose tread is imprinted on everything from Watergate to myriad tales of San Francisco lore.The artifacts of Breyer’s career decorate his office. A glass coffee table in his chambers is etched with the name of his longtime law firm. But there are no regrets, he said. Since he donned the robe, the realities of the job have exceeded the expectations.“Oh, it’s much better,” Breyer said. “It’s a wonderful job.”For years, Breyer’s name was on everyone’s short list for a judicial nomination, and his ascension to the bench was smooth. He was among a group of candidates rushed through a 1997 breach in the federal nominations logjam, capping a nearly lifelong dream.“I’ve always wanted to be a judge,” Breyer said, “since I was a law clerk.”Breyer grew up in San Francisco but went to college back East. An aspiring actor, Breyer was rejected by Broadway and returned to the Bay Area. Attending Boalt Hall School of Law, he stumbled onto another great stage — the barely contained chaos of Berkeley in the mid-1960s.“It was a great time to be at Berkeley,” Breyer said.Change was sweeping the campus, and the lessons were being taken out of the classrooms and onto the boulevards, amplified through bullhorns.“[Berkeley] taught me that the law impacts people and not just ideas,” Breyer said. “Or maybe I should say that people impact the law.”Along with several notable turns in public service along the way, Breyer worked for Coblentz, Cahen, McCabe & Breyer (now Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass) — a firm with strong ties to the Democrats — for most of his career.Breyer has seen his share of history.From prosecuting the White House plumbers in the break-in at the offices of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Breyer knows the price of dirty tricks; from working in the San Francisco DA’s office during City Hall assassin Dan White’s trial, he knows the price of failed prosecutions; and from working with a San Francisco Examiner publisher after a famous newsroom scuffle, he knows the price of former political consultant Clint Reilly’s broken ankle.In his short tenure, he’s shown himself to be efficient, prepared, hands-on (once ordering attorneys in a suit over development in Yosemite National Park to meet him at the proposed site, 150 miles and three days later) and, at least once, that there is an end to his fuse.In a contentious 1999 drug case, he sent defense attorneys Harold Rosenthal and Robert Bloom before the Northern District’s Standing Committee on Professional Conduct.The move created a stir in the legal community. The issue is resolved and Rosenthal still has his license, but he declined to comment. Bloom could not be reached.Another lawyer defended the move, saying Breyer, as a new judge, had to define limits in his courtroom.And Breyer encourages lawyers to disagree with him. “I think it’s important,” he said. “I don’t take it personally. At least I try not to take it personally.”Some lawyers, even those who have been victorious in Breyer’s courtroom, say he allows litigators to talk too much — something unprepared judges sometimes do. But Breyer does his homework.“I hope that I do give lawyers the latitude to try their case,” Breyer said. “If they’re not going anywhere, I try to direct them back to the point.”Lawyers who know Breyer — and most around San Francisco do — come into his courtroom knowing they face a judge not far removed from a career of trials.Breyer admits he loves a good trial — “It has a life of itself” — but wants it over fairly quickly.“My goal is to bring every case to resolution within two years,” he said.Breyer also brings to the court intangibles few judge do. He is a supporter of the arts (a Wayne Theibaud cityscape hangs in his office), and while there’s little he can do about the architecture of the monolithic federal building, he has moved to decorate the interior. Also, Breyer’s wife runs the popular City Arts & Lectures program.Breyer said lawyers in his courtroom shouldn’t overplay their hand.“I would think that they should be prepared to be candid,” Breyer said. “Because what I want to do, and what I think most judges want to do, is to be right.”His advice?“Argue the strong points, concede the weak ones.”Spoken like a courtroom veteran.

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