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COURT: Santa Clara County Superior ELEVATED: By court consolidation, July 30, 1998 BORN: Jan. 5, 1950 LAW SCHOOL: Boalt Hall School of Law, 1974 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: Santa Clara County Municipal Court, 1989-1998 Jamie Jacobs was only 9 years old when her older brother – all of 12 himself and with their parents’ permission – took her from their Bronx home to see the wonders across the river in Manhattan. Kids roaming New York by themselves might seem shocking nowadays, but those were simpler times, and the two spent the day safely taking in the sights, including, believe it or not, the courts. Young Jacobs was enthralled by the lawyers and judges and later found herself entranced by television courtroom dramas such as “Perry Mason” and “The Defenders.” The legal bug had bitten. Jamie Jacobs-May, as she’s known today, parlayed that childhood fascination into a lifelong legal career and now has a primo job as the assistant presiding judge of Santa Clara County Superior Court. She currently presides in Department 4 where she hears civil trials. Her laid-back style was evident at a recent hearing in her San Jose courtroom. The losing party in a personal injury case had challenged the prevailing party’s request for more than $9,000 in costs. Jacobs-May more or less split the difference, OKing some costs and denying others. Oakland solo practitioner Paul McCarthy seemed satisfied. “She took off about half the costs that were inadequately documented,” said McCarthy, who represented the litigant challenging costs. “Most of what she didn’t take off were costs I didn’t challenge anyway.” Jacobs-May said she considers herself, her staff and the attorneys who appear before her as “part of a judicial family. . . . We’re here to make things run smoothly.” She’s likely to become presiding judge next year, and her anticipated two-year tenure could come at a turbulent time. Trial court funding might be hard to come by in rough economic times, she noted recently, and one-third of the Santa Clara bench will be eligible for retirement in the next three years. “We can look at a lot of turnover,” she said. Nontheless, Jacobs-May is ready for the challenge and has the experience of a 34-year legal career, including 19 years on the bench, to back her up. Over the years, Jacobs-May worked as a deputy attorney general in San Francisco – arguing before the California Supreme Court and sitting as second chair in the United States Supreme Court – and handled civil litigation at a private firm. Since her appointment by Gov. George Deukmejian in 1989, she’s served nine years on the municipal court and 10 on the superior court. Through it all, the 58-year-old has remained grounded, able to run a courtroom efficiently while maintaining an easygoing personal style. She calls herself “user-friendly,” and lawyers who have known her for years agree. “She puts on no airs at all,” said Salvatore Sunseri, a partner in San Jose’s Stenberg Sunseri Roe Pickard & Rudy who has known Jacobs-May since her muni court days. “She is never heavy-handed. She is the same person outside the courtroom as she is inside the courtroom.” San Jose attorney David Hamerslough called Jacobs-May a “complete judge” in that she will “take the extra step and devote the extra time” to get things right. “She’s willing to engage you in a dialogue,” the Rossi Hamerslough Reischl & Chuck partner said. “And that’s as much as any lawyer can ask for. If I’ve got an opportunity to talk and have [the judge] explain to me why and what [she thinks], that’s what it’s all about.” Despite her early inspirations, Jacobs-May graduated from UC-Berkeley in 1970 with a degree in psychology. But she had also taken pre-law English, and decided a legal career was her calling. Right out of Boalt Hall School of Law in 1974, Jacobs-May took a job with the attorney general’s office in San Francisco and wound up doing criminal appeals for seven years. She argued one of her cases, Bowland v. Municipal Court, 18 Cal.3d 479, before the California Supreme Court and won. The case dealt with the constitutionality of a state statute that prohibited the practice of midwifery without a license. Jacobs-May, who is married to Los Gatos dentist Howard May, was pregnant at the time. Jacobs-May quit the AG’s office in 1981 and took a job as an associate at San Jose’s Berliner Cohen & Biagini, in part to be closer to her family. In 1983, she joined the Santa Clara County counsel’s office, where she stayed until joining the bench. Jacobs-May is somewhat ambivalent about the PJ job because it will entail “more and more administrative work and less judging.” Even so, she would welcome the challenge. “It isn’t boring. It isn’t tedious,” she said. “You are constantly learning. You are exercising a different part of your brain.” One thing Jacobs-May said courts will soon need to address is the rising number of pro per litigants, especially in family court. “That trend will likely continue,” she said. “And we need to be more responsive.” Jacobs-May has had disappointments. She said she has twice applied to the appellate bench and twice she didn’t get the job – once with Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and once with current Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jacobs-May said she had applied to undertake “yet another challenge, an opportunity to make law.” She took solace in simply having a job she still likes a lot. Of Jacobs-May’s four children, only one followed in her footsteps: He’s a lawyer in Philadelphia. Another son is a third-year student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, while a third is in a pre-med graduate program at Mills College in Oakland. Her only daughter just got a master’s degree from Columbia University. And that brother who took her to Manhattan in her childhood? He became a surgeon. But four years ago, Jacobs-May said, he surprised everyone by going to night school and getting a law degree. For a complete list of available profiles, go to

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