X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
COURT: Northern District of California APPOINTED: Aug. 17, 1999 DATE OF BIRTH: June 27, 1945 LAW SCHOOL: Harvard Law School, 1971 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: None Here are three important things about U.S. District Judge William Alsup: He gets to work at 5:30 a.m. He has strong feelings about class actions. He goes backpacking every summer in the high Sierras with a cumbersome medium-format camera. It’s tough to make pictures and still pack light. But the results are worthwhile, if Alsup’s Ansel Adams-esque landscapes decorating the attorney lounge in the Federal Building are any indication. Alsup said his camera work has improved over the years. “I think the key thing is I would learn from my mistakes,” he said. Alsup uses the same words when discussing his three decades practicing law. It’s that ability to learn, combined with being “thoroughly” well-prepared, he said, that made him a successful trial lawyer at Morrison & Foerster where he worked for more than two decades. Now, nearly five years after President Clinton appointed him to the federal bench, Alsup is still known for his diligence. He’s also recognized as a thoughtful judge who is willing to work as hard — or harder — as the lawyers who appear in front of him. Those attorneys call Alsup “innovative,” usually in reference to the judge’s handling of class actions and securities cases. He’s made headlines in his short bench tenure by refusing to just baby-sit those matters. Instead, Alsup prefers a more active role, requiring, among other things, lead plaintiffs to shop around before settling on a law firm even if some big name first brought their matter to his court. “He’s not afraid to experiment, which I love,” said Reed Kathrein, a partner at the San Francisco office of Lerach, Coughlin, Stoia & Robbins, the San Diego-based plaintiffs firm. Kathrein saw some of Alsup’s non-traditional case management in four securities class actions. Besides seeing his client interview other firms — something Kathrein said wasn’t “pleasant” — he’s also seen Alsup order defendants’ personal assets be assessed to ensure plaintiffs get the recompense they deserve. Although these techniques might rub some attorneys the wrong way, Kathrein said the hands-on approach indicates the judge is engaged in the case, which he said means his client will be treated fairly. “I think it’s a great experience. It’s a learning experience,” Kathrein said. During a discussion of his approach to class actions, Alsup brought up a check for 52 cents he recently received — his cut of a class action settlement. It probably cost more than that amount to print and mail it, Alsup said. “Class actions work pretty well as long as the parties are adversarial,” he said. “At first they always are, but if there’s a settlement, this is where problems arise.” Some of Alsup’s techniques are already being adopted by other judges doing class actions. Steven Schatz, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, said he expects more judges will copy Alsup. Schatz thinks one ruling — allowing defense attorneys to depose confidential plaintiff witnesses in a securities fraud case — will become more common. “He doesn’t necessarily assume that the way things were done in the past � [is] always the best way to proceed,” Schatz said. Although most laud the judge’s innovations, another lawyer who’s been in front of Alsup said there could be a danger, too. Joseph Tabacco Jr. of Berman DeValerio Pease Tabacco Burt & Pucillo, another plaintiffs firm, said that although well-intended, the consequences of Alsup’s practices could have “the potential to inhibit attorney-client relations.” Alsup said he’s not trying to invade the attorney-client privilege. But the lead plaintiff has a duty to the rest of the class, and Alsup believes they therefore should be diligent about picking counsel. That minor criticism aside, Tabacco said he still knows Alsup will give him a fair shake. Alsup’s feelings of fairness go all the way back to the genesis of his legal career. The judge originally had wanted to be an engineer. But while at Mississippi State University in the mid-1960s, Alsup got involved with the debate team and with a student organization that tried to bring civil rights figures to speak on campus. Alsup and other students had to fight the administration and even threatened legal action in order to get permission to host the president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Alsup called his experience a “footnote” in the larger civil rights movement. Nevertheless, he went to Harvard Law School and, after clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, returned to Mississippi, his home state, and practiced as a civil rights attorney. That only lasted six months. Then Alsup and his wife came out to California. But for a brief stint as assistant to the U.S. solicitor general from 1978 to 1980, Alsup worked at MoFo from 1973 until his 1999 appointment. Alsup speaks very fondly of his time as a trial lawyer, saying he enjoyed nothing more than standing in front of a jury to make an argument. But being a judge seems to suit him, too. “There are lawyers and judges who work just as hard as I do, but I will say that I am slightly more driven,” Alsup said. “I like what I do and I like to see it done as well as it could be done. I see great rewards from all the hard work.”

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.