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COURT: San Francisco Superior APPOINTED: Dec. 3, 1996, by Gov. Pete Wilson DATE OF BIRTH: Sept. 2, 1936 LAW SCHOOL: Stanford Law School, 1965 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: None Rephrasing lawyers’ arguments and giving them a chance to respond is classic Ernest Goldsmith. “Do I seem to grasp your respective positions?” the San Francisco Superior Court judge asked plaintiff and defense attorneys at a recent hearing. Since Republican Gov. Pete Wilson appointed him in 1996, Goldsmith has gained a reputation among many attorneys as a particularly courteous and hardworking judge. He refrains from cutting lawyers off and lets them speak their piece. Many attorneys, though not all, say that’s a good thing. Plaintiffs lawyer Steven Harowitz, a partner at personal-injury firm Harowitz & Tigerman, said it’s gratifying when Goldsmith invests the time to listen and understand. “I’d rather have it that way than the alternative,” Harowitz said. It’s reassuring to a lawyer when the judge restates his argument, he said. But procedures in Goldsmith’s courtroom can get a little tedious if a lawyer drones on and on, said Philip Harley, a partner at Paul, Hanley & Harley who represents plaintiffs in cases involving toxic exposure. “My style would be to cut ‘em off too soon.” Goldsmith stresses the importance of giving litigants a full and complete hearing: “I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the table.” After graduating from Stanford Law School in 1965, Goldsmith worked as an assistant DA for about five years before moving in to civil law. Handling general civil litigation for about a quarter of a century, mostly as a solo attorney, he often represented nonprofit corporations. The lion’s share of Goldsmith’s judicial assignments have been in civil courtrooms. And as a judge, he’s developing something of a specialty in asbestos. Though Goldsmith has handled a variety of cases, from contracts to real property and torts, he’s had only asbestos cases for about the past year, until a contracts case landed in his lap a month ago. He also presides over a calendar of expedited summary judgments and discovery disputes for asbestos cases. A handful of lawyers said Goldsmith is willing to work hard and stay late to educate himself, which has helped him climb a steep learning curve. “He’s really gotten up on the curve on asbestos cases,” said defense lawyer Christopher Wood, of San Francisco toxic tort practice C. W. Wood & Associates. “He’s very bright. And he’ll work at the cases, too, if he doesn’t understand.” But Goldsmith’s courtesy is perhaps his most oft-noted trait among several attorneys. “I’ve seen him hear argument from people who didn’t have a leg to stand on, but nonetheless he’s very respectful,” said C. Brooks Cutter, of Sacramento’s Kershaw Cutter Ratinoff & York. “He’s not one of the grumpy judges,” said Ingrid Campagne, a toxic torts defense attorney and a partner at Walsworth, Franklin, Bevins & McCall. “He’s not one of the ones that jumps at you for stuff.” Lawyers would be wise to take their cues from the judge and treat their opponents politely, Harley said. “Professional courtesy goes a long way in his courtroom.” Goldsmith speaks with frequent pauses in, and between, his sentences, in contrast to the rapid-fire delivery of some judges. But just because he doesn’t show a lot of bark doesn’t mean he lacks bite. “He can express displeasure in the politest way,” said Richard Stratton, a real property litigation partner at Hanson, Bridgett, Marcus, Vlahos & Rudy. Though his tone stayed even, Goldsmith displayed no hesitation when he ordered a defense attorney to pay sanctions, requested by a plaintiffs attorney at one recent motion-to-compel hearing. “In public, I’ve never seen a degree of anger,” said another San Francisco real property litigator, who asked not to be named. But Goldsmith, presiding over a settlement conference, made it clear “in private, with a bit of anger, that he thought what I was proposing was out of line,” the lawyer said. Though many plaintiffs and defense attorneys heaped compliments on Goldsmith, and others offered at least measured praise, some defense lawyers are privately critical. Allison Davis, a partner in the San Francisco office of Seattle-based Davis Wright Tremaine who used to represent defendants in asbestos cases, counts herself among “the Ernest Goldsmith fan club.” But “there’s some defense attorneys who think he’s plaintiff-oriented,” she said. Davis knows of lawyers who have wanted him disqualified from their cases, she said, speculating that some defense lawyers might perceive plaintiff leanings because Goldsmith “allows a lot of things in.” Several other attorneys from both sides of the bar, though, deem Goldsmith fair and open-minded. For example, Stratton and Morgan Tovey, a partner at Reed Smith Crosby Heafey, have opposed each other in Goldsmith’s court, and both said he gave their side a fair shake. “Some attorneys are going to have a particular impression based on their experience. So not knowing specifically what circumstances they’re referring to, it’s really hard to respond,” Goldsmith said. “I just do my best to be fair to both sides.”

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