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COURT: San Francisco Superior APPOINTED: Elevated via court consolidation, Dec. 31, 1998 DATE OF BIRTH: Dec. 3, 1936 LAW SCHOOL: Boalt Hall School of Law, 1969 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: San Francisco Municipal Court, 1991-98 As San Francisco Superior Court Judge Wallace Douglass waited for a defense attorney to arrive in court last week, he leaned against a podium next to his clerk and chatted casually with a prosecutor. Douglass can be pretty informal when he’s not on the bench. But once court is in session in his civil trial department at the Polk Street annex, “I really appreciate formality,” Douglass said. Standing up to address the court, asking permission to approach a witness, and not “loung[ing] around” with one’s hands in one’s pockets are all things, the judge said, that contribute to an aura of respect for everyone in court. Still, he’s quick to add that he won’t throw a monkey wrench in a lawyer’s presentation if such formality isn’t in his or her nature. Though it’s been nearly 14 years since Douglass was appointed to the municipal bench by Gov. George Deukmejian, lawyers say the judge still wears his last job — as a law clerk for a state appellate court justice — on his sleeve. A researcher at heart, Douglass urges attorneys to “make sure the citation stands for the proposition.” And his love for the intellectual side of law can be “two-sided,” said one prosecutor who asked not to be named. “He’s very thoughtful, but it also is slow.” A tension between being thorough and being efficient is inherent in the job, Douglass said, and “obviously, I fall on the side of more inefficiency.” That generally doesn’t bother him, except for “a sense of unease” that more efficient colleagues may wind up with a bigger caseload, he said, so he’s mindful of what impact he may have on them. “I have to ask myself, am I just amusing myself with these intellectual games, or am I getting a better result?” Sure, the judge’s cerebral nature sometimes slows things down, says James Farragher Campbell of San Francisco’s Campbell & DeMetrick, but the law’s never been criticized for moving too swiftly. Campbell has in the past been struck by how carefully the judge reads pleadings and motions — a benefit the lawyer says attorneys don’t often see in the Hall of Justice due to the volume of cases there. And arguing some issues with the judge can be a pleasure, Campbell added. “It kind of takes you back to law school days.” While lawyers give Douglass marks for being a patient, sincere listener, it’s not wise to approach him for a long chat when the jurors are about to arrive. “He does give you every opportunity to make your argument,” setting him apart from many judges, said Hugo Torbet, a criminal defense solo in San Francisco. The judge takes supplemental briefing, Torbet said, and would probably accept a letter from an attorney who left court and later thought of a point he should have made. “The more input I have, the more likely I am to get it right,” Douglass said. “I’m unlikely to say, ‘Forget it, it’s too late.’” But, while usually accommodating with his own time, Douglass won’t tolerate an encroachment on the jurors’ clock. “If you come in late � he makes you apologize to the jury,” said plaintiff attorney Arnold Evje II, a San Francisco solo. And if a lawyer approaches Douglass to talk at 9:28 when jurors expect to convene at 9:30, the attorney will get exactly two minutes, Evje said. The judge admits to being “obsessively” concerned about keeping jurors waiting, and warns lawyers as much at the beginning of trials. He also, as Evje notes, tells attorneys to limit their objections to six words. “Every objection to a question � is expressible in six words or less,” Douglass said. He doesn’t need more, and lawyers who launch into a so-called speaking objection may include statements jurors shouldn’t hear, such as facts that aren’t in evidence, the judge said. Douglass also remarked on time wasted when lawyers take a ruling too personally and insist on putting something on the record that has nothing to do with the controversy at hand. “We all do our job better if we don’t waste our energy on fits of personal pique.” While Douglass is personable and bright, he’s so soft-spoken that he comes across as “less than aggressive” in settlement conferences, according to one attorney. He’s not very good at telling people their case isn’t worth much, said the civil attorney, who asked not to be named. “I just feel that he needs to be a bit more strong when it comes to settlement conferences.” That’s a valid criticism, Douglass said. “I think I am improving with practice,” he added, saying he was gratified when he closed a $500,000 gap in one recent case. But, “I’m not a good settlement judge yet.” Though San Francisco criminal defense solo Hugh Levine describes Douglass as “extremely well-schooled in the law,” the judge wasn’t always so bookish. Douglass says he did so poorly in his first two years of college, “flunking out almost,” that he left school for three years in the military. When the Army sent him to language school in Monterey for instruction in Mandarin Chinese, it almost led Douglass to a different career. He returned to school and began pursuing a doctorate in Chinese language literature, intending to become a professor. But Douglass never got his Ph.D., deciding a career in academia would be too cloistered for him. “I’m introverted enough that I don’t need a job that allows me to be incommunicado,” he explained. So he went to law school, then began his legal career with 5 1/2 years as a prosecutor in the San Francisco district attorney’s office. After leaving in 1975 to work as a lawyer for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in Maryland, he returned to San Francisco in 1976 to start a solo practice of about half criminal and half civil law. In 1984, he became a law clerk for then-First District Court of Appeal Justice John Holmdahl. Criminal defense attorney V.Roy Lefcourt challenged Douglass in the 1998 municipal court election. Douglass won the contest by about 5 percentage points. As he’s bounced back and forth from civil to criminal assignments, Douglass hasn’t let his language skills get too rusty. San Francisco solo Jonathan Newman recalls that when his wife was called to the judge’s courtroom for jury duty, she was impressed that he spoke to some potential jurors in Chinese.

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