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COURT:Alameda County Superior APPOINTED: 1997, by Gov. Pete Wilson DATE OF BIRTH: March 11, 1952 LAW SCHOOL: Boalt Hall School of Law, 1979 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: none Presiding over messy divorces and cutthroat custody battles may take its toll on some judges, but Judge Jacob Blea III relishes his assignment. “I really believe it is the place where you can do the most good,” said Blea, who became Alameda County’s first family law presiding judge in 2001. “You bring together � the emotional and the law and make hard decisions about what’s in the best interest for the child.” Suburban family law lawyers say that Blea’s commitment to the job comes through. He reads the cases and can quickly gauge the essence of a case, they say. “He has a good knack for recognizing what’s going on in a particular situation,” said Thomas Knutsen, a Newark lawyer. While some family law judges are burdened with a pro-mom or pro-dad tag, Blea is even-handed and keeps a poker face, lawyers say. “He is anti-jerk �� whether the jerk happens to be the mom or the dad,” said Doris Slater, a Pleasanton solo who’s a regular in Blea’s courtroom. “He wants people to act like adults.” It’s common for Blea to ask lawyers “if there’s anything else” they want to say. But once he makes up his mind, lawyers say, he usually doesn’t waver. “He has an open mind, until he’s made it up,” said Vera Hartford, of Pleasanton’s Blaha, Hartford & Perry. Hartford says she can sense mid-argument when Blea has made a decision. “You can see that he’s done,” she said with a laugh. Added Livermore solo Cherie Davis: “I’ve seen him change his mind, but I would have to say it isn’t frequently.” In an interview, Blea said that his habit stems from advice another judge gave him when he was a rookie jurist: “You have to listen, you have to make a call, and you have to move on.” While Blea doesn’t usually budge on rulings, he’s very patient with people who choose to be their own lawyer, attorneys say. During a recent court session, Blea urged a physician with large assets to hire a divorce lawyer. The doctor, whose license had been suspended, said he couldn’t afford to hire a divorce attorney because he hired three lawyers to handle his pending federal criminal case. “I can do it myself,” the man said. There’s too much at stake, the judge said. “They are asking for a permanent restraining order, which is a pretty big deal,” Blea said. “There is a lot going on here which is difficult for a layperson to understand.” Blea ruled on some of the couple’s financial issues, but continued other parts of the case until the man could get legal help. Blea took up family law late in his legal career. He practiced civil law for 12 years, working at Oakland’s Eskanos & Adler and Hayward’s Rifkind and Fuerch. He dabbled in family law at the Rifkind firm and, the judge says, he became intrigued by that area. In 1994, Blea took over a colleague’s family law practice in Livermore. At the time, he said, other lawyers discouraged him from doing family law full- time. “People always say, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t do it. It’s too emotional,’” Blea recalled. “I like dealing with people at the emotional level � and helping them through it.” When he was appointed to the bench in 1997, Blea jumped at the opportunity to handle a family law calendar �� an assignment that many jurists avoid. “I knew that it was not something they would dump on me. I would ask for it,” he said. Blea had a full-time family law assignment in Hayward during his first four years on the bench. Since his assignment to the Gale-Schenone Hall of Justice three years ago, he’s handled a mix of family law and other matters. Blea advises that attorneys be clear and concise �� some matters are only allocated 20 minutes for argument. He recommends that attorneys present their cases like an essay: Spell out what you want him to do, back it up, make a conclusion, and bring it back to the original point. “It makes for a better presentation,” he said. Blea worries about divorce attorneys who are more focused on battling in court rather than resolving cases. Often those tactics drive up attorneys fees and don’t solve problems. “Family law is a different breed of litigation,” the judge said. “We should always be moving to resolve these cases. [Attorneys] should come to me, or any judicial officer, as a last resort.”

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