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COURT:San Mateo County Superior ELECTED:1996 DATE OF BIRTH:Aug. 19, 1940 LAW SCHOOL:Boalt Hall School of Law, 1968 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE:None Joseph Bergeron seems to have a charmed life, “serendipitous” as he likes to say. And the San Mateo County Superior Court judge just might be onto something. He has scored a hole-in-one in golf, attended New York Yankee pitcher Don Larsen’s historic perfect game in 1956, got stationed at San Francisco’s scenic and safe Presidio at the height of the Vietnam conflict, and has run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, about 15 times without suffering serious injury. Bergeron even recounts a trip to the ancient Roman ruins of Ephesus in Turkey two years ago when he purchased a guidebook only to find a photo of himself touring the site on his only previous visit there in 1979. “How many pictures did this guy take on this date and at that time?” Bergeron says as he shows off the picture. “Just swell things happen to me.” Among those good things, he says, are his election to the bench in 1996 and his decision to pursue the law — despite having no family or friends in the profession — after getting out of the Army in the ’60s. “I did it strictly to provide me with the flexibility to have choices later in life,” the 64-year-old says. And he hasn’t regretted it. He had a successful private practice in San Mateo County for about 27 years, doing a lot of criminal defense work, along with some personal injury, divorce and business cases. He has had a big hand in statewide politics, serving as a fund-raiser for an array of Democratic candidates. And he served a stint as a State Bar governor, winning election to the board despite ignoring an age-old “gentleman’s agreement” aimed at rotating his district’s representation between two counties on the Peninsula and two in the East Bay. “I was the guy who upset the apple cart,” he says proudly. Bergeron’s also found his time on the bench rewarding. “I like the challenge. I like the pace. I like the work. I like the camaraderie,” he says. “And I like the interplay with lawyers.” Some of that interplay was on display on a recent August morning during an elder-abuse trial in his Redwood City courtroom. Bergeron stepped in when he felt it was needed. He didn’t hesitate to correct the defense lawyer on a minor misstatement, made him give a witness time to study a document before resuming questioning, and even told the witness to stop volunteering too much information. “Just respond to the question,” Bergeron said. “Don’t tell us what’s in the letter. That’s there just to refresh your memory.” He also warns lawyers appearing in his court to be civil to each other. “They shouldn’t get into the face of opposing counsel,” he advises. “When things get heated, I make them address all comments to me.” Two fans of Bergeron’s hands-on approach are San Francisco lawyer Michael Bassi and John Bentley, partner in Redwood City’s Ropers, Majeski, Kohn & Bentley, who faced each other in a bitter battle between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and three nuns at Moss Beach’s Russian Convent of Our Lady of Vladimir Inc. The court battle over which party owned property and icons had been going for two years when Bergeron was assigned as the settlement judge last spring. On April 22, the parties reached an agreement, and Bergeron, who had presided over talks that ran for more than nine hours and ended at about 11 p.m., got much of the credit. “He stayed in the courthouse the entire time and made his courtroom available to the parties,” says Bassi, who represented the nuns. “He’s got the ability to see where the tipping point is in the case, where it can be settled.” Bentley, who represented church officials, agrees, saying Bergeron was “unflagging.” “He didn’t push, but he kept coming up with alternate solutions to problems that came up along the way,” he says. “He kept probing until we found [a settlement] that was mutually agreeable.” Bentley says it was the first time he ever wrote the presiding judge afterward to commend a settlement judge. Bergeron has also earned his fellow jurists’ respect. “He’s earnest,” says Quentin Kopp, who retired from the San Mateo bench on Feb. 1 but still sits by assignment. “He is a source of quick information, and I think that he has garnered the respect of colleagues who five, six years ago were not particularly commendatory about him. “It was a Republican era,” Kopp explains, “and he was a prominent Democrat in the county.” Very prominent. Bergeron was on the county’s powerful planning commission for 12 years and helped usher several Democrats into office. He was instrumental in the early career of U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto. As a judge, Bergeron has had to swear off political involvement. But he still finds time to contribute to the community, especially through a group he founded called “Bunch of Good Guys,” made up of people who raise money to buy food for the poor at Christmas. More than $120,000 has been collected since its 1985 founding. Bergeron says he can no longer collect or manage any of the money because of judicial ethics, but he still helps by purchasing the food. The judge’s other interests include “the loves of [his] life” — his daughter and three granddaughters, the oldest of whom is 8. He dines with them every Sunday, works with the Parent-Teacher Association and performs yard duty at their school once a week. “I make room for it,” he says. Bergeron also still travels. When he turned 60 in 2000, he challenged himself by taking a 450-mile, solo pilgrimage across northern Spain to the shrine of St. James at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. “I spent most of the time introspecting, going over my life,” he says, “thinking about myself, what I’ve done right or what I’ve done wrong.” It was, Bergeron says, “a rebirth.” And it was fun. “If you can’t have a good time,” he says, “what the heck!” — Mike McKee You can order past judicial profiles of more than 100 Bay Area judges at www.therecorder.com/profiles.htmlor by calling 415-749-5523.

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