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COURT: Northern District of California Bankruptcy Court, San Jose Division APPOINTED: 1988, by Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals DATE OF BIRTH: Oct. 17, 1942 LAW SCHOOL: Boalt Hall School of Law, 1967 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: None A routine application to authorize employment of special counsel has caught U.S. Bankruptcy Judge James Grube’s eye. A law firm that represented the debtor prior to its bankruptcy is seeking compensation, including a contingency fee that could surpass $300,000. Before he can give the green light, Grube wants more information. “I’m not very clear about how this deal works,” Grube tells the parties at the hearing in his San Jose courtroom. It could be totally legitimate, he notes, or it could be a fraudulent transfer. It turns out the issue is not fraud but a mistake over which section of the bankruptcy code is more appropriate to use to compensate the counsel. By catching and fixing the error, Grube averted what could have led to unintended consequences down the road. Such caution and scrutiny are characteristic of Grube. One of the rare bankruptcy judges to have started off in a district attorney’s office, Grube retains a prosecutor’s instinct, keeping a constant lookout for potential abuse and overreaching. But the judge is also considered analytical, even-handed and practical among attorneys who regularly appear in his courtroom. “He is tough, but very fair,” says Robert Harris of Santa Clara’s Binder & Malter, with an “instinctive grasp of legal issues in a case.” “He picks up on things very quickly,” concurs San Mateo attorney Maureen McQuaid, who also notes Grube’s even temper and polite demeanor on the bench. After graduating from Boalt Hall School of Law in 1967, Grube spent two years in the army and served in Vietnam. Returning to civilian life, Grube set out to become a trial lawyer. In 1970 he landed a job in the San Francisco district attorney’s office under then-DA John Furdon. The experience was intense, recalls Grube, who estimates that he tried 50 to 60 jury trials during his five-year stint as a prosecutor. “By the end of the five years it was sort of, if I never tried another case, that would be OK,” he said. Grube went into private practice in Palo Alto with a friend who had done some bankruptcy work in the past. Referrals for insolvency matters started rolling in, and within a year the firm had established itself as a bankruptcy boutique. When a couple of San Jose bankruptcy judgeships opened up in 1988, Grube saw it as an opportunity to improve a forum that many practitioners found wanting. “Lawyers did not feel they could predict what was going to happen, and the results might vary dramatically depending upon what judge you drew,” says Grube. Grube set out to bring consistency and predictability to the San Jose bankruptcy court. “My philosophy is, I’m not the third lawyer in the courtroom,” he says. Rather than working to produce a certain result, Grube views each situation through the lenses of the law and the evidence. The result is a perception of fairness and consistency among visitors to his courtroom. “I’ve lost as many as I’ve won” in front of Grube, says San Jose bankruptcy attorney Charles Logan. “But I know why I lost.” Logan and other attorneys praise Grube’s conversational style on the bench. Rather than summarily rule on matters, he lets lawyers know how he views an issue and invites dialogue. Grube is also committed to making the court convenient and accessible. In 1993 he was one of the main advocates of implementing teleconference technology so that attorneys could appear by phone, saving time and money. Over the years, Grube has had his share of complex cases, including the golf course operator Mountain View Golf Co. Inc. (a fitting assignment given Grube’s passion for the links and his 4 handicap) and the recent Chapter 11 of electronic warfare manufacturer Condor Systems Inc. While Grube is always respectful of the attorneys who appear in front of him, he doesn’t hesitate to confront a party if he senses something is amiss. Whether the issue relates to attorneys fees, an asset sale or relief from the bankruptcy code’s automatic stay, Grube is always alert for any potential abuse of the system. “He is attuned to abusive tactics and overreaching, and doesn’t let people get away with it,” says Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean partner Mark Bostick. He has a real feel for the honesty of parties in a case, says Binder & Malter’s Harris. “If he thinks that someone is not playing it straight in a case, more often than not he’ll know it even before the facts are laid on the table.” Grube acknowledges this vigilance, but says it’s less about an obsession with weeding out fraud than it is about ensuring that the field is level for all parties. The bankruptcy code is designed for non-bankruptcy specialists to use the system, he explains. But it’s important to keep a close eye on things, since innocent mistakes and oversights could end up injuring a client. “I don’t think the bad faith is a problem as often as maybe being in over your head a bit,” Grube explains. “So if somebody has something that is beyond them, then you try and suggest that they consult with somebody else.”

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