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COURT:Third District Appellate APPOINTED:1992, by Gov. Jerry Brown DATE OF BIRTH:Dec. 3, 1943 LAW SCHOOL:Harvard Law School, 1968 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE:Placer County Superior Court, 1980-82 Third District Justice Richard Sims grew up the son of a judge — First District Court of Appeal Justice Richard Sims Jr. But he says his experiences coming of age in the Kennedy-Johnson years of the early 1960s is what turned him toward a legal career and shaped his perspective as a jurist. As an undergraduate studying English, Sims considered –and ultimately rejected –the idea of a graduate degree in English as “too arcane and remote for me.”Law school seemed a way of getting “involved with issues that were more real than going on in English,”said Sims, who counts such real-world pleasures as backpacking and visits to the Isleton Spam Festival among his recreational pursuits. After law school graduation in 1968, Sims embarked on a two-year stint as a VISTA volunteer, working “skid row”south of Market in San Francisco. The 62-year-old justice describes those years as “the most important experience of my life”and says the lessons he learned on the street continue to shape him as a justice in one of the state’s most influential courts. In his impassioned dissent in People V. Meeks, 123 Cal.App.4th 695, Sims argued against imposing a lengthy prison sentence on a felon who had missed a deadline for registering as a sex offender, noting that the man was terminally ill and living on the streets. “As a consequence of my VISTA experience, that concept of being homeless and dying of AIDS was a very real one to me,”Sims said. “I knew exactly what that meant to this guy in a very graphic and very real way.” Sims followed his VISTA experience with a summer during law school as a researcher for the president’s Commission on Crime and Criminal Justice, riding with Boston police as they patrolled the streets of Roxbury, a poor neighborhood of Boston. “I came away with a very good working understanding of what police officers are faced with,”Sims said. The empathy gleaned from those experiences comes across in other Sims opinions. “This is the hardest case,”Sims wrote in the opening of Conservatorship of Wendland, 26 Cal.App.4th 519, which put forth the rights of a conservator to remove life support from a semi-conscious spouse five years before Terri Schiavo became a household name. “An opinion like this is long and difficult, and he obviously worked on it,”said attorney James Braden of San Francisco, who represented the incapacitated Robert Wendland in the case, which went all the way up to the state Supreme Court, where it was overturned. In Wendland, Sims “read every footnote and dealt with every argument presented by both sides”before ruling that the state probate code gave Wendland’s wife the right to withdraw her husband’s feeding tube. Janie Hickok Siess, who opposed Braden in the case, agreed that Sims’ review was thorough. “The arguments went on and on,”she recalled. “They kept questioning us and really, really grilled us, in many ways, more than the Supreme Court did.” Sims said he stands by his decision in Wendland, despite the fact that it is one of only five of his 3,500 majority opinions overturned by the court. “When this court decided Wendland, we decided it on a statutorial basis, construing a statute that the Legislature had given to us. I still think that was correct, notwithstanding what the California Supreme Court did.” Despite the ramifications of Wendland, Sims says his most significant decision is the one he rendered in Board of Administration v. Wilson, 52 Cal.App.4th 1109. In that 1997 decision, Sims balanced the contract requirements of the state and federal constitution against a policy enacted by the state Legislature that gave the governor and lawmakers the power to change the schedule for contributing to state employee pension funds. Sims decided the case based on constitutional issues rather than statutory regulations –an increasingly rare phenomenon at a time when “almost the entire universe of law is statutory,”Sims said. In the early days of jurisprudence, “when Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. decided cases, courts just made up rules,” Sims said. “That power still exists to this date in our courts in the field of tort law, but otherwise the field of law has been occupied by statutes and occupied by statutes in legislation.” With that perspective in mind, Sims said he likes to see appellate briefs “that focus on the statutory language” and underscore the relevance of statutory citations “as big as life in the text of the brief and not in a footnote.” He says he advises new lawyers to “read the statute, read the wholestatute, and then step back and ask yourself, ‘If I apply the ordinary meaning of the language, do I win or lose?’ If you do that, and it doesn’t support your case, it’s not a good case to appeal.” Kay Lauterbach, a deputy attorney general who argued her first appellate case before Sims, said he “went right to the heart of the matter without condescension”and then complimented the young attorney on her argument, though she ultimately lost the case. Justice Fred Morrison, a Third District colleague who joins Sims on an annual summer backpacking trip, calls Sims a “wonderful”judge. “He’s a guy who really believes in what a judge does –following the law and writing his understanding of the case in clear language.” A registered independent and one of four Third District justices appointed by Democrats, Sims was asked to submit his name to fill the California Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Stanley Mosk during Gov. Gray Davis’ term. Sims politely refused what other judges view as a career pinnacle. “It may be everyone’s dream, but it’s not my dream,”said Sims. “My dream is to stay right here in this job.” 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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