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Maybe the most coveted job in the San Francisco Superior Court isn’t so coveted after all. Judge Richard Kramer had held the slot since the complex litigation department had been formed in 2002, and when incoming Presiding Judge David Ballati announced in November that Kramer would be transferred, interest was high. Judge John Stewart got the gig. Then on Wednesday, the judges found out Stewart had changed his mind before even taking the job. Ballati announced in a memo to colleagues that Stewart had asked to remain in a civil trial department. “In light of this change, I have selected Judge [John] Munter from among the several excellent judges who are interested in the complex litigation assignment,” Ballati said in the memo. On Thursday, Ballati said he didn’t regret offering the job first to Stewart, “who expressed an interest � and was immensely qualified.” He said he doesn’t regret passing the job to Munter now, either. “I don’t want to put anybody in that assignment who does not want [to be there],” Ballati added. Because complex litigation was one of the most sought-after positions when judges requested new assignments last year, Ballati said he never considered asking Kramer to keep the job after Stewart decided he no longer wanted it. “That would be inconsistent with what I promised my colleagues,” he said. Since his assignment to the complex department was announced, Stewart said Kramer has invited him to sit in on court hearings, to participate in a limited role and to view some of Kramer’s written orders. Stewart said it was during this training period that he realized how much time is spent on case management rather than overseeing trials. “I really hadn’t appreciated all that, [and] I really like trying cases,” Stewart said. “That’s why I became a judge.” That opened the door for the presiding judge to move Munter into the complex department. A member of the State Bar since 1966, Munter has had loads of experience handling complex cases throughout his career. Before his appointment in 1994, he was a name partner at Lasky, Haas, Cohler & Munter, which he founded with colleagues from the former heavyweight firm Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison.
‘I don’t want to put anybody in that assignment who does not want [to be there].’

PRESIDING JUDGE DAVID BALLATI San Francisco Superior Court


While on the bench, Munter has handled complicated cases, including what he described as San Francisco’s only two clergy sex abuse cases, and a pair of high-profile suits against the tobacco industry. So when he was tapped this week to change assignments, he said, “I saw it as an opportunity, because it’s what I’ve done almost all of my productive years.” Though Ballati picked Stewart first, he said Munter is “equally competent.” Some attorneys on Thursday gave the incoming complex litigation judge high marks as well. William Stern, a partner at Morrison & Foerster who’s representing Bank of America in the complex department, said Munter carries a reputation for being balanced and getting cases resolved in a timely fashion. “I know Judge Munter as a settlement judge, and he has been absolutely terrific,” he said. In contrast, two defense lawyers who have appeared regularly in the complex department said Kramer has often let cases linger on the docket to the detriment of defendants seeking a quick resolution. “He may not decide a case for a long time,” one of them said. Kramer could not be reached Thursday afternoon. But Michael Rubin, a partner at Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain who’s had a half-dozen cases in front of Kramer, strongly disputed the defense lawyers’ criticisms. “I have seen absolutely no evidence of partiality to one side or the other,” Rubin said. Every time Rubin has appeared in Kramer’s court, the judge has consistently shown “interest in learning the case and managing it effectively,” he said. Ideally, Rubin said he would prefer to avoid having the San Francisco court choose between qualified judges, by splitting the job among two or three of them. The assignment “imposes a tremendous burden on the single judge if there’s just one,” he said. If there had to be a single judge, Rubin said, Munter has all the qualities to succeed in the position. “Judge Kramer is a tremendous complex litigation judge,” Rubin said, “but if he has to be replaced, Judge Munter is an excellent choice.”

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