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COURT: Alameda County Superior APPOINTED: Elevated to superior court through court unification in 1998 BORN: Feb. 21, 1944 LAW SCHOOL: Boalt Hall School of Law, 1968 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: Alameda County Municipal Court judge, 1989-1998 Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stephen Dombrink knows the tricks of the legal trade. Preparing for trial in a race discrimination case last year, the 18-year judge noticed plaintiff attorney Christopher Dolan angling to have Dombrink dismiss a prospective juror who appeared unsympathetic to his clients, two former Federal Express employees. “He said to me, ‘I see what you’re doing here, Mr. Dolan, but you’re not going to get rid of that one for cause. You are going to have to use one of your challenges,’” Dolan recently recalled. In Dombrink’s civil court, perhaps more than most, the jury is held in the highest position of esteem. Even though attorneys routinely submit their own jury verdict forms in advance of trial, for example, Dombrink said he often finds himself typing up the final draft, to clarify for jurors what questions they need to answer in deliberations. “My experience is that they [the lawyers] don’t see it like I do,” the judge said during an afternoon interview in chambers. That doesn’t mean Dombrink always writes the jury forms himself. In a wrongful death case last year, he granted a defense motion to advise jurors that, in California, a defendant found liable might have to pay up to 100 percent of the economic damages, even if the jury decides it is responsible for only a small portion of harm. “Virtually no jurors other than those who are lawyers know that,” said Edward Hugo, a partner at San Francisco’s Brydon Hugo & Parker who represented a defendant in the case. Hugo said Dombrink’s ruling added a dose of “common sense” for jurors, who ultimately found his client to be not liable. Like most civil law practitioners who get appointed to the bench, Dombrink says he looks forward to handling cases that present difficult legal issues. A San Leandro solo in the late 1980s, he interviewed with then-Gov. George Deukmejian’s judicial appointments secretary on the day of the Loma Prieta earthquake, in 1989, and joined the municipal court bench soon after. More than a decade would pass in various judicial assignments � “everything but probate and felony trials” � before Dombrink started seeing higher-value civil cases. His name appeared in newspapers across the country last year when jurors in the FedEx discrimination case returned a $61 million verdict, including $50 million in punitive damages. Dombrink later reduced the total award to $12 million, and then the parties agreed to a confidential settlement. Because that settlement resolved all issues in the suit that could be subject to appeal, Dombrink spoke publicly about the case in April with Dolan, the plaintiffs’ attorney, at an Alameda County Bar Association event. None of the defense attorneys in the case participated, though Dolan said they were invited. Jeanine DeBacker, a partner at Oakland’s Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean who attended the event, said the judge set a tone that maintained the level of respect normally found in the courtroom, even though the event was held at a restaurant at Oakland’s Jack London Square. “Both [Dombrink] and Chris Dolan spoke very professionally of the defense, even when it got to the point where we said, ‘Come on. We want some gossip,’” DeBacker said. Of course, there was already plenty of gossip material out there for those who had read Dombrink’s order on FedEx’s motion for a new trial. In that ruling, issued in September 2006, Dombrink hammered the defense for telling jurors it accepted their $5 million compensatory damage verdict for each plaintiff while employing “high-powered efforts to have the damages drastically reduced by the court.” “As it happened, this deceptive lawyering may have done FedEx Ground more harm than good,” Dombrink wrote. Two attorneys from Seyfarth Shaw and O’Melveny & Myers, the latter brought in by the defense for the punitive damages phase, and a spokesman for FedEx declined to discuss the case when called for this story. This summer, Dombrink helped launch Alameda County’s new civil direct calendar system, in which trial judges handle all case management and pretrial motions themselves, instead of farming them out to other judges. Dombrink estimates he had 150 to 200 cases on the docket before the switch to a direct calendar system. As of Aug. 31, court records showed Dombrink with a caseload of 465 pending cases, on the low side among the judges in the direct calendar departments. “I’m not complaining,” Dombrink said. “If you like to make decisions, we get to make lots of them.” Dolan said he was apprehensive about his first appearance in Dombrink’s court, having heard that the last three cases there resulted in verdicts favorable to the defense. He compared the feeling to getting set up on a blind date and then finding out that the last three guys went home injured: “It doesn’t make you feel all that positive about your prospects.” But Dolan said he was struck by Dombrink’s integrity, and that opinion stayed the same, even after Dombrink reduced the damage award in the FedEx case after trial. “He’s the only guy I know who took $48 million worth of dinner off my plate who I still speak to,” Dolan said. For a complete list of available profiles, go to http://www.law.com/jsp/ca/judicialprofiles.jsp

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