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COURT: First District Court of Appeal APPOINTED: Jan. 25, 2002, by Gov. Davis BORN: Aug. 24, 1937 LAW SCHOOL: Harvard Law School PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: San Francisco Superior Court, 1982-2002 On the day President Kennedy was assassinated 40 years ago, a young prosecutor in the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., was sent to the law library to see if there was a way the agency could claim federal jurisdiction over the investigation. That prosecutor, a year out of Harvard Law School, was Stuart Pollak, who’s now a justice on San Francisco’s First District Court of Appeal. And it was Pollak who discovered that as of Nov. 22, 1963, it was not a federal crime to shoot the president. Although that later changed, Pollak says the feds moved in anyway that fateful day, taking Kennedy’s body and transporting it to Maryland for an autopsy. Local authorities were shoved aside. Those were heady times for Pollak, who went on to serve on the staff of the Warren Commission, the group that investigated Kennedy’s assassination and concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone — a decision Pollak says to this day was correct. “There was no larger conspiracy,” he says. “There was never any reliable evidence or indication that there was anybody but that one person.” Today, Pollak, 66, is far from the hubbub of the political world, relishing the relative calm of appellate court life. “My colleagues all told me it’s the greatest job in the world,” he says, “and I find it hard to disagree with them.” Being on the appellate bench, Pollak says, gives him the opportunity to do the things he’s always loved best about the law — delving deeply into cases and giving much thought before writing a well-researched ruling. “Important decisions,” he wrote in 1999 in his application for the bench, “call for explanation — to ensure intellectual honesty, to permit feedback, to assure the parties that there is a reasoned basis for the decision, as well as to facilitate review by a higher court.” Friends say he’s followed up on those convictions since joining the First District almost two years ago. “He’s an extraordinarily thoughtful, analytical person,” says Jerome Falk Jr., a partner at Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin, where Pollak once practiced as a name partner. “You can’t get anything by him,” Falk says. “He sees the whole picture, the big picture, the little picture, the details. He really is a meticulous judge.” J. Thomas Rosch, a partner in the San Francisco office of Los Angeles’ Latham & Watkins, calls Pollak a “completely straight-up, call-it-like-it-is judge” who also happens to be extremely bright and have a “truly fine judicial temperament.” Pollak comes from humble beginnings. He was born in San Pedro, near the Los Angeles Harbor. When Pollak was two, his father, the circulation manager of the San Pedro News-Pilot, moved the family to San Francisco to take over the circulation department of the San Francisco Chronicle. His dad later founded a business called Pollaks, which was involved in sales promotions for newspapers. “My father was hopeful I’d go into the business,” Pollak says, “and it was a real wrenching decision to go into the law.” Pollak says high school debating piqued his interest in a legal career, and in 1962 he became the family’s first lawyer. After clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren for a year, Pollak joined the Justice Department, where he worked for three years, and served his stint on the Warren Commission. He then headed home to San Francisco where he joined Howard, Rice to handle commercial litigation. He left in 1982 when then-Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to the San Francisco Superior Court. About the only criticism of Pollak during his time on the trial court was that he tended to over-deliberate, to hang onto decisions too long. Pollak says that’s a false impression. “My feeling on the trial court was that it was helpful to me and the process and the parties to lay out what I was thinking and let them respond or critique,” he says. “Some of my friends said I shouldn’t think out loud on the bench, that it appeared indecisive, but I strongly disagree with that.” During a recent oral argument in the First District, Pollak listened intently as a lawyer argued that a judge’s decision not to drop one of a defendant’s prior burglary strikes and to sentence him to 35 years to life for robbing a jewelry store was arbitrary and irrational. Pollak wasn’t buying that. “Here’s a person with a long history of offenses,” he said. “This offense was not a minimal thing. It was obviously planned,” he continued, and the situation “falls squarely” within the Three Strikes law. (The court, in a ruling written by fellow Justice Carol Corrigan, affirmed the sentence on Nov. 25.) Another lawyer ran into skeptical questions when she argued that the trial judge was right to admit into evidence a fraud victim’s videotaped interview even though the 93-year-old man’s memory about events was extremely fuzzy. “You’re saying there is some built-in assurance that everything he’s saying is accurate?” Pollak asked. “Where’s the assurance that what he’s remembering is right?” While not referring to the lawyers in these two cases, Pollak says he prefers that attorneys in oral arguments answer the court’s questions directly and candidly. Those who “rattle on” without realizing they might have problems with their argument, he says, “are missing an opportunity.” “They are not dealing honestly with the difficulties that might exist with a position,” he says. Not that he’s against playing games. Justice Corrigan says that at one function at Pollak’s home, he and his wife, Lee, held a sort of Trivial Pursuit contest on California legal history, with questions such as who appointed Seranus Hastings to the state Supreme Court. “He has a way of bringing his scholarship into everyday life,” Corrigan says, “and making it fun.” You can order past judicial profiles of more than 100 Bay Area judges at www.therecorder.com/ profiles.html or by calling 415-749-5523.

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