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Court: U.S. District Court, Central District of California Born: Feb. 21, 1920 Appointed: June 15, 1984, by President Ronald Reagan Prior Judicial Experience: Judge, Los Angeles Superior Court, 1968-84Law degrees: University of Colorado School of Law, 1949U.S. District Judge William J. Rea grabbed the attention of local officials nationwide when he ruled Aug. 30 that the “pattern of misconduct” in the Ramparts scandal suggests the Los Angeles Police Department could be “a criminal enterprise” subject to the federal anti-racketeering law.The biggest surprise, the city’s attorney told reporters, was that the unprecedented ruling came not from some wild-eyed activist new to the bench but rather an 80-year-old conservative appointed by Ronald Reagan.Ideology is no key to Rea’s rulings, responds a well-known litigator who has won and lost cases before the judge in the past decade. “With him, there’s no games and no agendas,” says Bert Deixler of the Century City office of Proskauer Rose. “The RICO decision? You might be able to challenge him on the law, or challenge him on the facts. But the last factor to consider, with this judge, is that he’s a Reagan appointee.”Deixler, as well as a dozen other lawyers interviewed for this article, expressed respect for Rea as a decent man with a judicial temperament that borders on courtly. “He is just such a nice guy, a consummate gentleman,” says Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Warren, who has prosecuted cases in Rea’s court for six years.“A lot of judges wouldn’t have the courage to make the RICO call, but he’s the judge from Central Casting,” says Roger Jon Diamond, who has tried both civil and criminal cases before Rea. “And he’s strong without being a bully. He doesn’t take it personally if you argue a point of law with him.”Where the consensus breaks down is a sensitive area, and that is whether Rea’s age has diminished his performance. Predictably, even raising the topic makes lawyers go off the record.Two of those who spoke on a not-for-attribution basis said they believe the judge relies much more these days on his staff. Whatever tentative ruling he brings to court with him, he will hear you out but invariably stick with the initial call, said one lawyer. “You can be involved arguing a really complex sentencing matter, and he listens and nods, but whatever you started out with, that’s what you end up with,” said another.Rea says he has completely recovered from a minor stroke last year, except for a weak knee that sometimes requires him to be helped to the bench. In conversation, he is quick and to the point. Although he has taken senior status, he is a workhorse who is at the courthouse every day, carrying a full civil calendar plus half a criminal calendar — “a little less than I used to do,” he adds.Ironically, age was an issue for Rea even before he was on the federal bench. He says that as a Superior Court judge in his 60s, he thought he was too old to be elevated. Gov. Reagan had first named Rea — a decorated Naval officer in World War II and an insurance defense lawyer in private practice — in 1968. And as president, Reagan elevated Rea, then 65, to the federal bench. The judge says he faced no litmus test about how he would rule on abortion or school prayer, but did undergo “a lot of questions” from a Justice Department lawyer about his position on gun control and the death penalty (he does not oppose the latter and says he doesn’t care one way or another about the former).On a recent Monday, the judge appeared hunched and tiny as he entered the courtroom. He looked each defendant on the criminal calendar squarely in the eye; there is none of the automatic pilot often seen in criminal cases. A convicted alien smuggler, in shackles, told the judge at sentencing that all he was trying to do was earn money for his children because his own father never could afford to send him to school.“Why, that is no reason to break the law!” the judge interrupted suddenly. He sounded as if he had never heard the excuse before, but was absolutely certain it was wrong.

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