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Old federal judges don’t ride off into the sunset anymore. They go to JAMS. Two of the best in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California saddled up their proverbial horses recently when U.S. District Judge Charles Legge and U.S. Chief Magistrate Edward Infante announced that by the end of the summer, they will be gone. The departure of Infante, widely acknowledged as the best settlement judge on the court, and Legge, whose unrelenting work ethic was the stuff of legend, leaves San Francisco’s federal bench with more than just two vacancies — it leaves it with two gigantic holes to fill. And their departures — at least in Legge’s case — also underline what some judges feel is the most pressing problem facing the federal judiciary today: salaries. “Why would [a lawyer] take this job?” said Karen Redmond of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. “Yes, there’s the prestige of a federal judgeship. But if you have kids who are going into school, there’re better ways to make a living. “Altruism is fine and good,” she added, “but it doesn’t pay the bills.” The double-steal is a coup for JAMS, which adds two of the best to a cadre of federal judges who have made their golden years truly golden by leaving the bench for more lucrative private arbitration practices. Legge, 70, and Infante, 60, follow in the footsteps of retired Northern District Judge Eugene Lynch, and are expected by those who know them to excel as private judges. Their services will be sought after by some of the biggest companies in America. JAMS Judge Peter Stone, who served 21 years on the Santa Clara County, Calif., Superior Court bench, said federal judges’ experience is valuable in several hotbeds of litigation which are the province of federal courts, including patents, copyrights and intellectual property. The departures of Legge and Infante also leave the remaining members of the bench with much slack to take up. Legge, known to arrive at the court earlier each day than any other (until Judge William Alsup came along) and to run trials back-to-back — carried a caseload that will not be easily absorbed by the bench. And Infante’s leadership in settling cases — one of the crucial roles magistrates play — will have to be assumed by the ranks. U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins considers those ranks the best group of magistrates in the country, but nevertheless acknowledges the loss. “It’s a wonderful group of judges, but he’s the leader,” Jenkins said. A replacement for Legge may be awhile in coming. A local system for vetting federal judicial nominees is in its infancy. It will likely be months before a name is put forth, and even then the efficiency of an evenly divided Senate in approving nominated judges is yet to be determined. The New York Times recently reported that President Bush is set to forward his first slate of appellate court candidates in early May. In addition, U.S. Supreme Court observers expect at least one justice to retire once the current term ends, which could lead to political machinations that delay local nominations further. As for Infante’s replacement, the pool of potential magistrates is smaller by two; the Northern District recently appointed respected local lawyers Richard Seeborg (now sitting in San Jose) and Edward Chen (now sitting in San Francisco) to the magistrate bench. Now a third is needed, and the court is advertising for candidates. Infante started his judicial career a quarter of a century ago in the Southern District of California, had a brief tenure as a U.S. Trustee, and headed north 10 years ago. Handling the lion’s share of the magistrate’s civil calendar in San Jose’s federal courthouse, over the years Infante settled cases involving virtually every major company in Silicon Valley. He was also given special assignments in courts throughout the country. “Judge Infante has probably mediated more class action settlements than any human being in the country,” said Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati partner Boris Feldman, a securities lawyer. His accomplishments include a recent $259 million settlement between 3COM Corp. and its shareholders — one of the largest securities settlements ever. He also settled a long and bitter dispute between Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. over use of the Java programming language. “There are very few judges, in my experience … that have really a unique talent for understanding the practicalities of litigation,” said plaintiffs’ lawyer Joseph Tabacco Jr. of Berman, DeValerio, Pease & Tabacco. “He can hone in on those issues very quickly.” And despite some gallows humor about his techniques (eat a big meal before you go in, because you may not come out for awhile), everyone seems to have genuine affection for him. “It’s due in large part to the force of his personality,” Tabacco said. “He can settle cases very often that would not otherwise settle. The key thing about Judge Infante is that both sides come out of mediation uniformly punished.” Legge has presided over several high-profile cases in his career, including a 12-year patent dispute between Genentech Inc. and the University of California and a suit over congressional redistricting. He currently presides over a human rights suit filed against Chevron Corp. involving a deadly raid on a Nigerian oil platform and a case involving the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261. “It seems like every case we have in our office has his initials on it,” said John True III, a partner at Oakland, Calif.’s Leonard, Carder, Nathan, Zuckerman, Ross, Chin & Remar. “For me, Judge Legge is what you want to be as a judge,” said Jenkins, Legge’s courtroom neighbor. “He’s intelligent, he’s courageous, he’s fair.” When announcing his departure Friday, Legge not only said he wanted to cut back on his 400-case workload, but touched on the salary issue. Referring to his family, Legge said he wants to “make a financial contribution to their lives.” Federal district judges make $145,100, and many have watched their clerks leave for a law firm to make, in their first year, more money. True said the brain drain isn’t as serious a threat to the federal bench as it is to state courts. But, he added, “both Legge and Lynch have left. You do have to start wondering if there is some sort of trend here.” In the 25 years between 1965 and 1990, 74 federal judges left the bench through resignation or retirement. But that pace is increasing. Between 1991 and 2000, 52 did the same. Legge is expected to be number 53. Federal judges have traditionally transitioned into quasi-retirement by taking senior status, which allows them to set their own caseload while still earning their full pay. Chief Justice William Rehnquist called pay “the most pressing issue facing the judiciary today.” The situation for federal judges in the San Francisco Bay Area is more dire than for colleagues in other parts of the country. Skyrocketing local real estate values have only recently leveled off with the downturn in the economy. And in comparison to the cost of living in the Bay Area and the salaries of law firm partners, judicial salaries once considered enviable have been reduced to a pittance. Led by Rehnquist, the Judicial Conference of the United States asked Congress for past cost-of-living increases, which have not been provided, and to enforce legally mandated increases in the future. Redmond said White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, a former Texas Supreme Court justice heading up Bush’s selection efforts, is also aware of the problem. For now, though, the local bench has its own problems as it begins to search for replacements. Tabacco, like many, agrees that Legge’s and Infante’s departure leaves a huge void. “I think it’s going to be a real problem,” he said. “It’s going to be a long summer for the other judges.” The Northern District asked Infante — and he agreed — to continue to take special assignments. For the near future, he is expected to spend 25 percent of his time working for the court. It is a move that underscores the vacuum the losses create. Said Judge Stone, happy to have them aboard at JAMS: “I feel guilty about that, but — and you can print this — I’ll get over it.”

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