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COURT: Santa Clara County Superior APPOINTED: Elevated via court consolidation, July 30, 1998 DATE OF BIRTH: Oct. 4, 1948 EDUCATION: University of San Francisco School of Law, 1973 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: Santa Clara court commissioner, 1984-1988; Santa Clara municipal court 1988-1998 SAN JOSE — As a child growing up in Cleveland in the 1950s, Ray Cunningham befriended the young son of Dr. Sam Sheppard, a neurosurgeon whose murder case riveted the nation and spawned the television series and movie “The Fugitive.” While public opinion then indicated that most of the nation thought Sheppard was innocent of killing his wife, the locals felt differently. The young children transferred their parents’ anger onto the younger Sam Sheppard. “They threw stuff at him, called him names, said ‘your daddy is a murderer’ — even threw rocks at him,” said Cunningham, now 56 and a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge. As a neighbor and friend, Cunningham faced similar taunts and abuse. That poor treatment led to a pivotal decision. “I decided back then that I was going to be a lawyer, and I never changed my mind,” he said. Cunningham’s family returned to Detroit, his birthplace, but the future prosecutor never let go of the Sheppard trial. He followed the case’s twists and turns — including an eventual acquittal — throughout childhood and into high school. Even now, a book on the Sheppard case sits on a shelf in his chambers. Cunningham is the presiding judge of the court’s appellate department and supervising judge of traffic court. He recently took on Judge Jerome Brock’s felony early resolution calendar when Brock moved to trials. He’s also on the ethics committee of the California Judges Association. “I’m kind of a type A person, and I need to be kept busy. So I like the variety,” said Cunningham, who also dealt with a wide variety of crimes as a judge in the south county branch. Cunningham’s career and life seem to be marked by chance meetings and the timing of certain decisions. Thinking he needed to see more of the country, Cunningham left the University of Detroit and arrived at the University of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury campus in 1968 during the Summer of Love. Cunningham, who came from a conservative Republican family and whose father is in the automobile business, said the change was overwhelming. But he managed to somewhat mesh with the eclectic community thanks in part to a love of Joan Baez music and Rod McKuen poetry. Cunningham never got sidetracked by the hippie movement and instead remained at USF for law school, graduating in 1973. He went on to set up a criminal defense and family law practice in the city and later moved his solo firm to Palo Alto. Cunningham joined the Santa Clara district attorney’s office in 1976 and stayed until 1984, with the exception of a one-year sabbatical in Idaho. He was willing to remain a small-town prosecutor there, but his wife wanted to return to Northern California. Cunningham accepted a commissioner’s post in 1984. He was appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian to municipal court in 1988 and became a superior court judge when the court consolidated a decade later. Cunningham, who sports a silver goatee and wears a Mickey Mouse watch, is described by attorneys as a gregarious jurist who keeps an open door and is always willing to hear from victims and their families. Deputy District Attorney Mark Hood, who frequently worked with Cunningham when the judge was stationed in south county, said Cunningham was the key to an amicable resolution of a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter case in which a driver improperly passed another vehicle and crashed, killing two of his friends. Hood said the judge recommended just the right mix of jail time, public service and counseling so the offender would realize the severity of his crime — but be able to live a better life when he finished his sentence. “His life wasn’t completely destroyed by his involvement in the criminal justice system, but there was appropriate punishment for the young man so he understood the gravity of the incident,” Hood said. Deputy District Attorney Charles “Chuck” Gillingham said Cunningham’s disposition helps resolve tough felony DUI cases in which the crimes are often “extraordinarily dangerous” but the offenders obviously need help. “As a prosecutor, you’re not going to get everything you want in these cases, but nonetheless things work out [with Cunningham]. He’s not weak, and when he makes a decision, he sticks with it,” Gillingham said. Deputy Public Defender Seth Flagsberg, who has worked with Cunningham in different courts for most of his two-decade career, said Cunningham is willing to stand up to prosecutors, despite his background in the district attorney’s office. But he does it with a nice touch. “Basically, if you can’t get along with him, you can’t get along with anyone,” Flagsberg joked. Cunningham is also known for his fixation with hockey. He once waited 24 hours in line for Detroit Red Wings tickets and is suffering this year through the NHL lockout. He also covers the America’s Cup sailing race as a journalist in his spare time — but not for a fee.

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