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Judge Alex Saldamando will retire this week after 26 years on the San Francisco bench, and plans to make the leap to private judging. More than 100 people turned out for the superior court judge’s retirement luncheon Wednesday, sending off the Arizona native in a room festooned with cactus and chili-pepper balloons. “I didn’t feel I had enough time to rebut all the scandalous things that were said about me,” Saldamando said later. “Some of which, unfortunately, are true.” Standing among the conspicuous packing boxes in his chambers Wednesday, the judge said he’s kept notes dating back to 1979, his first year on the bench. Gov. Jerry Brown first appointed Saldamando to the city’s municipal court when he was a prosecutor in the San Francisco district attorney’s consumer fraud unit, under DA Joe Freitas. He was elected to the superior court in 1990. Saldamando’s career had sometimes veered in unconventional directions. Before he graduated from UC-Berkeley in 1964, the judge spent some time as a farm worker, irrigating lettuce fields. (He tried driving a tractor, but crashed it.) After graduating from Hastings College of the Law in 1967, there was an internship, and then a trip to Europe that lasted two years, until his money ran out. When he came back, he got into civil law as a lawyer at the San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation. But then he “dropped out” of the law to become a carpenter, and spent a couple of years rehabbing houses until, he says, “I fell off a ladder, and I said, ‘You know, I could get hurt doing this.’” That revelation drove him to Sacramento, where he spent a few years as a lobbyist for California Rural Legal Assistance during the Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown gubernatorial administrations. Finally, he moved on to the district attorney’s office. He’s a little vague about his next step, saying he’ll stay local, and plans to enter private judging in October. He said he could not name his new workplace, but indicated an announcement may be coming as soon as next week. His empty seat will be the only current vacancy on the San Francisco Superior Court. At the courthouse Wednesday, well-wishers sent him off with a round of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” and stopped by his chambers to say goodbye. “He’s just extremely popular among the lawyers and the judges,” said Judge John Munter, a close friend. “It’s a little bit like the end of an era when he leaves us all.” Civil litigator Samuel Feng, of San Francisco’s Feng & Lee, said Saldamando put a lot of effort into mediating at settlement conferences. “He takes his time and he really works it,” Feng said. “He’s one of the best judges, in my opinion, that the city has.” Munter added that he teased Saldamando Wednesday for his penchant for organizing group lunches with frequency. “There was a lot of good-natured humor about that,” Munter said. “He’s a tremendous social force, as well as being a tremendous intellectual in the court.”

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