Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
COURT: San Mateo County Superior ELECTED: June 7, 1994 BORN: Dec. 27, 1940 LAW SCHOOL: Santa Clara University School of Law, 1971 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: San Mateo County Municipal Court, 1988-1994 H. James Ellis hadn’t given a thought to a legal career until a tragedy struck his family when he was in his late 20s. Only three months after Ellis got married, his wife’s father died in a car accident caused by a drunken driver. The family sued not only the driver but also the automaker Porsche, for allegedly manufacturing faulty seat belts. Porsche escaped liability when it was determined Ellis’ father-in-law had altered the seat belts himself, but the courtroom drama fascinated Ellis. “There was something about it. I was intrigued,” said Ellis, who’s been a judge in San Mateo County for 19 years and now hears mostly criminal cases. “The courtroom dynamic sort of appealed to me.” Soon thereafter, Ellis was accepted at San Francisco’s Golden Gate University School of Law, before later transferring to Santa Clara University School of Law. He got his degree in 1971 at the age of 30. Ellis, who’s married and has two grown children, was born in San Francisco. At Santa Clara University in the early ’60s, Ellis played basketball on a good Broncos team that, he said, always got beat by the great University of San Francisco teams of that era. Sports are still important to Ellis. In his Redwood City chambers are a couple of framed photos of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, an autographed photo of famed 49ers running back Roger Craig, and a large picture of the 1975 Golden State Warriors team that won the championship of the National Basketball Association. When asked to name his big cases, Ellis chose not to highlight any, saying they’re all important to the parties involved. But it’s clear, at least, that he’s presided over a variety of criminal trials in recent years, ranging from rapes and gang beatings to child molestations by a schoolteacher and a priest. Ellis’ first full-time legal job was as a deputy district attorney in San Francisco, from 1974 to 1978. That was followed by about six years in private practice, including stints at Carroll, Burdick & McDonough and Bronson, Bronson & McKinnon, and then four years as a deputy DA in Alameda County. Then-Gov. George Deukmejian appointed Ellis to the San Mateo County Municipal Court in 1988. He was elected to a vacant post on the superior court in 1994. Some attorneys say he’s a down-to-earth guy who’s all business in the courtroom. “This man is a gentleman’s gentleman,” said John Digiacinto, the chief defender with the county’s private defender program and the executive director of the San Mateo County Bar Association. “He appreciates people looking him in the eye and saying what they have to say, and he gives it back.” Steven Chase, a South San Francisco lawyer who represented a convicted rapist Ellis sentenced to 29 years and eight months in prison last year, said the judge has integrity “in the pluses and spades.” “I’m a pretty liberal guy and I just think the world of him,” Chase said. “I always felt my clients got a fair shake” from Ellis. But not all lawyers are fans. A sampling of the anonymous comments in the directory, “California Courts and Judges,” indicates that some feel, among other complaints, he’s too stern and won’t keep an open mind. Ellis said he could agree he’s strict in the courtroom: He limits criminal defendants’ movement, insists on decorum, and prefers punctuality. But he winced at some of the other claims, especially that he doesn’t listen to the parties. Ellis takes the comments to heart, but said he won’t let them affect his work. “You’re always going to be open to criticism,” he said. “That’s part of the job. But,” he added, being the ex-soldier he is, “I’d rather they say it to my face.” Ellis, now 67, is a congenial man with a mellow demeanor, but he strikes an imposing figure. He’s 6 feet, 1 inch tall, weighs 190 pounds and is solidly built. He appreciates a firm handshake and has short-cropped hair that gives him a military look. In fact, Ellis had planned on a military career � a huge American flag hangs behind his desk � until the Vietnam War changed his life forever. Ellis said his platoon got locked into a firefight with the Viet Cong one day and “all hell was breaking loose.” The next thing he knew, Ellis said, he was at a field hospital with serious bullet wounds to his right leg, thigh and knee. He was shipped to Japan where doctors found his wounds had become infected. “They thought we might lose the leg,” Ellis recounted, “but luckily they were able to subside the infection.” Ellis said that infection � called pseudomonas � recurs periodically and unexpectedly, and he now uses a cane and walks with a slight limp. But don’t offer Ellis any pity. He still works out at a gym three times a week and swims another three days. “I feel that I’m lucky to be here,” he said, “and I can’t complain at all.” For a complete list of available profiles, go to http://www.law.com/jsp/ca/judicialprofiles.jsp

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.