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COURT: Sacramento County Superior APPOINTED: Aug. 9, 2001, by Gov. Gray Davis BORN: Jan. 1, 1954 LAW SCHOOL: UCLA School of Law, 1979 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: None The hours are long and the motions can be even longer these days in Judge David De Alba’s courtroom. The Sacramento County Superior Court judge is in the midst of overseeing a three-month long, potentially multibillion-dollar class action against Ford Motor Co. The counsel tables are teeming with lawyers, the briefs are thick, the exhibits are many, and the lengthy testimony about the Ford Explorer’s alleged rollover danger can be technical, if not tedious. And after the plaintiffs surprised everyone by waiving their right to a jury on the first day of trial, De Alba became the center of attention. “It’s a fascinating trial,” the judge said recently, declining to say more, given the trial’s ongoing status. It’s also a big change of pace. Normally De Alba is the supervising judge of Sacramento’s felony home courts. But the Administrative Office of the Courts assigned De Alba the Ford Explorer case before he took on his supervising duties, and he’ll finish that assignment before returning to his felony calendar. The so-called home courts are five courtrooms, including four sited in the county jail, that handle non-trial proceedings in criminal cases. (The fifth, in the downtown courthouse, handles non-custodial cases.) Every day, prosecutors, police, public defenders, probation officers, defendants and their families converge in these courtrooms with one goal in mind: to reach a resolution � quickly. The process is designed to keep the criminal justice system functioning in the face of limited staffing and space and an overwhelming volume of cases. It works. On average, 97 percent of home court cases are resolved without a trial, according to the superior court’s statistics. “It’s a different assignment, absolutely,” De Alba said. “It’s not a deliberative opportunity for a judge. The premium is not on resolving global issues. � Other judges are not fond of it at all. I enjoy it.” That’s not to say the judge goes on autopilot in the fast-paced courtroom. “I’d say lawyers should expect Judge De Alba to take an active role in their case,” said Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Albert Locher. “He’s not a judge to sit back and say to the lawyers, ‘Go ahead and do whatever it is you’re going to do.’” “He’s a cerebral fellow. Thoughtful and cordial too,” said criminal defense attorney Richard Dudek. “He’s a very considerate judge, and he’s very thorough in terms of really understanding what the arguments are. He does his homework.” While he likes to � needs to, really � keep things moving in the courtroom, De Alba said he’s not inflexible, and he encourages lawyers to be informal in chambers. But in court, the judge is a stickler for decorum. He addresses a courtroom aide as “Madam Attendant.” He asks lawyers to pass documents to him or to a witness through a clerk. He frowns on interruptions. “Lawyers should remember that they are professionals, that they’re part of an honorable profession, and that they should comport themselves before the public in that fashion,” De Alba said. “That’s what I mean by my emphasis or my proclivity toward decorum, civility, order. They ought to be proud of their profession and behave that way. Sometimes in the heat of battle, it gets reduced to something else.” De Alba said he wasn’t born to be on the bench or even to be a lawyer, for that matter. The eldest of six children born to Mexican immigrants, he grew up in a San Francisco home speaking Spanish almost exclusively until he entered school. A graduate of Lowell High School, he gravitated toward political science and comparative law classes as a student at UC-Berkeley. A counselor suggested he consider law school, so he enrolled in the UCLA program. A clerkship at the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento led to a job offer in the attorney general’s office. And that’s where he spent the next 22 years, the first 10 in the criminal division and the next 10 as a civil litigator. When Bill Lockyer took office in 1999, he promoted De Alba to special assistant, a position he held until Gov. Gray Davis appointed him to the bench in 2001. “I just never would have dreamed that: ‘Hey, you’re going to be a lawyer for 22 years or one day you’d be a judge,’” De Alba said. “But two years turned into five years and five turned into 10 and 10 turned into 22 [in the AG's office]. Every day was a good day when I was a lawyer. I’d be happy if I was still in the criminal division. I’d be happy if I was still in the civil division. But progressively new opportunities arose.” De Alba will face another new challenge soon. Chief Justice Ronald George has assigned him to a “strike team” of retired and active judges that will temporarily relocate to Riverside County courts to try to whittle away at the backload of cases there. De Alba will leave when the Ford class action ends. For a complete list of available profiles, go to http://www.law.com/jsp/ca/judicialprofiles.jsp

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