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Jon Tigar recalls a day many years ago when he and good buddy Jeffrey Bleich decided to paddle through a natural rock arch while kayaking off the Mendocino coast. Trouble was that as the tide rocked in and out, the arch would disappear beneath the waves at times. Feeling foolishly brave, Tigar, who’s now an Alameda County Superior Court judge, and Bleich, now a litigation partner in Munger, Tolles & Olson’s San Francisco office, went for it. “We had not realized there was a back current,” Tigar recalled last week. “We got in the arch and we just stalled. We were just frozen in there, and suddenly the tide comes back in and we were totally submerged.” Luckily, after what seemed like forever, the water receded and the same back current shot both kayakers out of the arch. “It was a huge adrenaline rush,” Tigar said, “and we were high-fiving.” Tigar told this tale to make the point that Bleich is a fellow who likes challenges, and that’s a quality Tigar believes will work in his pal’s favor in the next year while serving as State Bar president: Bleich will be sworn in on Saturday during the State Bar’s annual meeting in Anaheim. Bleich said he hopes during his term to raise the State Bar’s image in the eyes of both its members and the general public. He believes lawyers have the means and wherewithal to improve society � and friends say he can lead the way. “He distinguishes himself by being one of the most accomplished people I’ve ever met,” Tigar said, “while remaining incredibly self-effacing and humble.” “Jeff’s just a regular guy,” he added. “But he’s a regular guy who happens to get a lot more done than others.” Some of Bleich’s other friends agree, but say his regular-guyness is more in line with that of Clark Kent, the mild-mannered alter ego of the fictional Man of Steel. “His nickname is Superman,” said Jami Floyd, a New York-based anchorwoman for Court TV who went to law school with Bleich. “I don’t know quite where it started, but little by little he became Superman. You’d say, ‘Superman is taking care of that,’ and everyone would know who you meant.” The 46-year-old Bleich � who lives in Piedmont with his wife, Becky, sons Jake, 15, and Matthew, 12, and daughter, Abby, 9 � isn’t the kind to toot his own horn. In fact, it was one of his friends � and not Bleich himself � who revealed for this story that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had approached the self-styled moderate Democrat four years ago to be his judicial appointments secretary. Bleich prefers actions to words, and often deflects attention with self-effacing comments. Take, for example, his response when asked how his partners will cope with the time he’ll need off to handle his presidential duties. “Everyone’s glad to see me out of the courtroom a little more,” he said dryly. “It’ll reduce our malpractice premiums for a year.” Humility, however, can’t disguise what one friend jokingly described as Bleich’s “obscenely excellent” resume. After getting a bachelor’s degree from Amherst College in 1983 and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University in 1986, Bleich graduated from Boalt Hall School of Law in 1989. At Boalt, he served a year as the editor-in-chief of the California Law Review, and was picked to join the Order of the Coif national honor society for graduating in the top 10 percent of his class. Bleich went on to hold three prominent clerkships, working one year each with Judge Abner Mikva of the D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals; Chief Justice William Rehnquist of the U.S. Supreme Court; and Judge Howard Holtzmann of the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in the Netherlands. Bleich served as president of the Bar Association of San Francisco in 2003 and has worked as an adjunct professor at Boalt Hall since 1992. He also has argued cases in the California and U.S. Supreme courts. “Everybody knows Jeff’s a star,” said James Scharf, an assistant U.S. attorney in San Jose and an outgoing member of the State Bar Board of Governors. “I see Jeff someday being a solicitor general or on the United States Supreme Court.” A STRAIGHT SHOOTER Bleich got noticed early in his legal career. After he served as a summer associate at the San Francisco firm that’s now Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass, the partners, including now-U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, offered him a job. “We tried everything to recruit him to our law firm,” Breyer said, but Bleich wanted to pursue his clerkships. “He has sound judgment, a wonderful ability to deal with difficult people, a sense of compassion and a deep commitment to justice,” Breyer said. At Munger, Tolles & Olson, Bleich practices complex business litigation and represents a variety of technology companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and telecommunications providers. He’s also handled several high-profile pro bono cases, including Joyce v. City and County of San Francisco, 846 F.Supp. 843, in which he represented homeless people being arrested for obstructing sidewalks, and Connerly v. State Personnel Board, 92 Cal.App.4th 16, in which he challenged claims that community college affirmative action programs violated Proposition 209, the 1996 initiative that prohibited preferential treatment based on race. Bleich lost both, but felt they were worth his effort. “I like to take on cases,” he said, “that have real significance for whoever is involved.” Surprisingly, Bleich has managed to make few, if any, political enemies, despite the fact he’s an active Democrat and admits he “sharply disagrees” with the policies of the Bush administration. “He has the confidence of politicians on both sides of the aisle,” Tigar said. “And I think that’s just a testament to the fact that everyone knows Jeff is a straight shooter.” That’s borne out by the fact that President Clinton appointed Bleich in 1999 as director of the National Campaign Against Youth Violence, and that Schwarzenegger sought his services as his official judge picker in 2003. Bleich said he liked Schwarzenegger �he met with him in an old studio office in Santa Monica � but turned him down because he didn’t want to “give up a day job” he really loved. The governor’s philosophies didn’t enter the equation. “I don’t think either party has a monopoly on good ideas or good people,” Bleich said. Nonetheless, Bleich is a staunch supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, whom he first met while clerking for Mikva in Washington. They stayed friends, and he raised funds for Obama’s first U.S. Senate campaign. Bleich is currently on Obama’s national finance committee. And earlier this year, he was one of a handful of high-powered Bay Area lawyers, venture capitalists and politicians who hosted a fund-raiser for the candidate at San Francisco’s InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel. Bleich won’t talk about his own political ambitions. But if Obama wins, there are some who think Bleich’s star could rise higher, too. SETTING STANDARDS Don’t think, however, that Bleich is an all-work-and-no-play kind of guy. At 5 feet 9 inches and about 185 pounds, he’s very athletic � surfing, jogging, playing tennis and hitting the gym in his spare time. And he devotes considerable time to his kids, as attested by the trampoline, baseball bats and tennis balls in his backyard, and the mobile basketball hoop in the driveway. Friends say Bleich found time in his younger years to teach himself how to play the bass guitar and to write a play called “Mad King Ludwig” that landed in the finals of a national playwriting competition. He’s also an Elvis fan, with a home office filled with posters, framed albums, a guitar signed by the King and even an Elvis pinball machine. Acquaintances say Bleich’s charisma contributes to the relaxed personality that draws people to him, and some say that will define his approach to the State Bar presidency. Tightly focused on the year ahead, Bleich said he realized at Boalt that as a lawyer he could do things “both on an individual level and on a societal level that you can’t do in other professions. “I kept seeing that people would come up with good ideas,” he added, “but if they didn’t know how the law worked, those ideas stalled.” Bleich said he hopes that in his term he can raise lawyers’ respect for the State Bar as well as show the public that lawyers are a good force for society. “We hold priests to a higher standard, our political leaders to a higher standard: Lawyers too,” he said. The public’s view of attorneys, Bleich said, is skewed by the big money many in the legal profession earn. “Thirty to 40 years ago, a really good lawyer made the same as a really good teacher,” he said. “When first-year lawyers are making more than federal judges � or three times a good professor � then our societal system is screwed up.” While he has no way to change that, he said he will aim to continue implementing initiatives advanced by former State Bar presidents that could improve the profession’s image. For example, he wants to continue the Bar’s commitment to pro bono activities, diversify the legal profession, and restore civility among lawyers. Bleich said he also wants the State Bar to refocus its discipline system, to pay less attention to infractions by lawyers “that don’t reflect a real hazard to the public,” and concentrate on attorneys who pose a “real risk” and “give the profession a black eye.” “We have an opportunity,” Bleich said, “to make the State Bar what we all hope it will be � a real voice for lawyers and a real advocate for public protection.”

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