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JUDGE’S ROOTS RUN DEEP IN SACRAMENTO COURT: Sacramento County Superior ELECTED: June 7, 1988 DATE OF BIRTH: Feb. 6, 1948 LAW SCHOOL: Santa Clara University School of Law, 1973 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: Sacramento County Municipal Court, 1985-1988 The law is in John “Jack” Sapunor’s blood. In case the Sacramento County Superior Court judge ever forgets that, all he needs to do is look at the historic pictures on display in the downtown courthouse where he works. A familiar face in one photo belongs to the late Benjamin Franklin Van Dyke, a former presiding justice of the Third District Court of Appeal and Sapunor’s grandfather. Sapunor’s namesake and father, the late John Sapunor, was a judge too. In fact, son Jack ran for and won the superior court seat vacated by his retiring father in 1988. And when you’re a third-generation judge, nobody really lets you forget. “Everybody I met for years and years, the first thing they would tell me was a story about my dad,” Sapunor said. “And some of the older people would tell me stories about my grandfather.” Taking the bench as the next family jurist “really wasn’t pressure,” Sapunor said. “It was just something that was there.” Sapunor, 59, won his fourth term on the bench in an uncontested election last year. The man who grew up in Sacramento’s courts figures he’ll end his career there, maybe in a year or so. But then he expects to return as a retired judge on assignment. Despite his pedigree, Sapunor insists he never aspired from an early age to be a judge. In fact, he once thought he’d like to be a railroad engineer, just like his paternal grandfather. Thomas Sapunor is well-remembered among railroad enthusiasts and local historians as the engineer of the “City of San Francisco,” the train carrying 226 passengers and crew that was stranded by a blizzard in the Donner Pass for three days in 1952. But Jack Sapunor decided to go to law school and started a career in the Sacramento County district attorney’s office. “Being a judge wasn’t really a goal at that point. I got in the DA’s office and really liked the work. I stayed there 11 years, and then the time was right to put in my application for the bench,” he said. Gov. George Deukmejian appointed Sapunor to Sacramento’s municipal court in 1985. The first case for the former major-crimes prosecutor was a civil dog-bite case. “It came to damages and I was scratching my head thinking, well, I think there’s liability here, but what’s it worth?” Sapunor said. “So I went down to a senior judge and he said, ‘What do you think?’ I gave him a figure and he said, ‘Well, that sounds about right.’ I would have been a lot more comfortable with a preliminary hearing and a felony, but a dog-bite case � [the presiding judge] thought that was an easy one to get me started. But it wasn’t.” Sapunor now handles mainly felony trials. Judge Michael Garcia, a colleague and former presiding judge, calls Sapunor versatile and efficient, “just a nice guy” with a contagious sense of humor. “Let’s put it this way: he’s a Giants fan and I’m a Dodgers fan and despite that I still think he’s a great judge,” Garcia said. Sapunor made headlines recently when, days after the U.S. Supreme Court upended California’s sentencing practices with its decision in Cunningham v. California, 07 C.D.O.S. 753, he became the first judge in the county to ask a jury to determine what role aggravating factors played in a defendant’s crimes. Sapunor planned to use the jury’s findings to calculate the defendant’s sentence. A confused jury ultimately reached conclusions on all but one of the issues. Sapunor declined to discuss the case, noting the defendant is almost certain to appeal, except to thank the attorneys for their help in trying the novel approach to sentencing. “If you don’t have any guidance you just have to try and do what seems right and hopefully that works out,” he said. As for lawyers in general, Sapunor said he likes “vigorous advocacy, but I don’t like people who are obstructionists. I don’t like people who want to point fingers and accuse the other side of misconduct at every turn. It’s sort of like crying wolf; pretty soon they lose their credibility.” Sapunor said he doesn’t have a good sense of what lawyers think of him. “I believe that lawyers like to come here. One defense attorney says he was told that it’s a good place to try a case but a bad place to lose one,” he said. When he’s not in court, Sapunor can often be found at his son’s Little League practices or jogging the streets of Sacramento County, including Sapunor Way in Carmichael, named after his father. “I ran down that street one day and it was trash day and all the cans were out and there’s Sapunor, Sapunor, Sapunor; my name is on every trash can.” Even as the judge eyes retirement, the Sapunor name seems likely to endure in the courthouse through future years. Son Patrick has already said he’d like to follow his dad and his mom, Vicki Sapunor, a research attorney in the Sacramento juvenile and dependency courts, into the law. The 11-year-old already displayed his legal skills during a recent incident at school where a teacher threatened to go through students’ backpacks to look for a missing video game. “So Patrick raises his hand and says, ‘Miss White, what if you find it in somebody’s backpack and they had nothing to do with putting it there?’ My wife and I were very impressed because we thought there are a couple of defendant firms that would hire him right now,” Sapunor said. You can order past judicial profiles of more than 100 Bay Area judges here or by calling 415-749-5406.

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