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U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney has taken a medical leave of absence from the court, with all her matters reassigned to Senior Judge Fern Smith. Chesney, 61, is expected to return to the bench in four to six weeks after she recovers from surgery, said her husband, retired San Francisco Superior Court Judge Edward Stern. “She insists on working. She refuses to go off the wheel or anything like that,” said Stern. “She is very healthy and that made the surgery a lot easier.” The Northern District clerk’s office confirmed that Chesney is indeed being assigned new cases. Stern said Chesney is keeping up with her workload via communications with her clerks. In the meantime, Judge Smith will be hearing a full calendar for the first time since she left her Northern District seat to head the Federal Judicial Center in 1999. Smith was not available for comment. As Chesney’s fill-in, Smith will be appearing in Chesney’s courtroom. All counsel are expected to make their regular appearances, with Smith ruling on motions that need attention. One criminal trial scheduled for later this month has been reassigned to U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer. Chesney’s absence will still come as a surprise to some. “This is the first I heard of it,” said defense attorney George Beckwith, who has a sentencing hearing scheduled for Jan. 14. O’Melveny & Myers partner David Furbush was scheduled to appear before Chesney recently but was told the matter would be taken under submission without argument. Since Chesney had done that before in other cases, Furbush didn’t bat an eye. “It didn’t seem surprising that she would do this in this particular case,” he said. Jim Gilmore, chief deputy to Northern District Clerk Richard Wieking, said notices about the switch were posted in the local legal press. The only difference in business, Gilmore said, is that “you are going to see a different judge.” Northern District Chief Judge Marilyn Hall Patel was unavailable for comment. Meanwhile, Stern said he would like the details of Chesney’s condition kept private. “The less said about it the better,” said Stern, who now works as a neutral at JAMS. But, he added, “The prognosis is very good.”

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