COURT: NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
CONFIRMED: DECEMBER 2009
APPOINTED BY: OBAMA
Since Judge Richard Seeborg took charge of his San Francisco courtroom in January 2010, he’s had a docket as eclectic as California. Earlier this year he presided over a relatively rare federal murder trial for Christopher Bryan “Stoney” Ablett, a member of the Modesto chapter of the Mongols motorcycle gang, who was accused of stabbing and shooting Mark “Papa” Guardado, the president of the San Francisco chapter of the Hells Angels. A jury found Ablett guilty in May, and Seeborg sentenced him to life in prison.
Observers say that it was typical of Seeborg to respond in a cool and calm way to a case full of heat and anger. “He is a reasonable man who resolves issues without histrionics,” says Judge Charles Breyer, a colleague on the Northern District of California bench. Rory Little, a professor at University of California Hastings College of Law, has a similar assessment of Seeborg: “His signature is that he prevents a lot of cases from becoming headline cases.”
Given his proximity to Silicon Valley, Seeborg has heard his fair share of tech company cases. In particular, he has become something of a go-to judge for disputes involving Facebook Inc. The first was in 2007 when Seeborg, then a U.S. magistrate judge, heard one of the two suits between Facebook and ConnectU, the social networking site started by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, the famed rivals of Mark Zuckerberg. (That litigation ended in a settlement.) Since then, Seeborg has heard claims brought on behalf of Facebook’s users over the service’s Beacon, Friend Finder, and Sponsored Stories features.
One characteristic that Seeborg has displayed in these cases: a skepticism that the lawyers who appear before him are worth what they say they are. In the Friend Finder suit, he turned down a $700,000 fee request from Facebook’s lawyers at Cooley, ruling that they only won dismissal of the case because the plaintiffs filed in the wrong venue. And this past August, Seeborg rejected a settlement in the Sponsored Stories case, in part because he didn’t think the parties had provided enough justification for the $10 million in legal fees that Facebook was proposing to pay to the plaintiffs attorneys.
After graduating from Columbia Law School in 1981, Seeborg joined Morrison & Foerster as an associate. In 1991 he became an assistant in the U.S. attorney’s office in San Jose, where he handled cases involving tax evasion, money laundering, and Ponzi schemes. Seven years later he rejoined Morrison as a partner, then left the firm again in 2001 to become a magistrate judge.