Retired U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti, the longest-tenured federal jurist in the history of the Northern District of California, died Wednesday. He was 96.
A brief email circulated among the judge’s former clerks Wednesday informing them that he died peacefully of natural causes Wednesday morning.
In an email Wednesday afternoon, Chief Judge Phyllis Hamilton said she learned of the earlier in the day, but had no further details.
“We will mourn his passing and will be forever grateful for his service,” Hamilton said. “He will always occupy a special place in the heart of the Northern District as our longest serving judge.”
In March 2011, Conti, who was nominated to the bench by President Richard Nixon in 1970, surpassed the tenure of the District’s first judge, Ogden Hoffman, who served the San Francisco-based court from 1851 to 1891. Upon his retirement in 2015, he had served 45 years on the bench, including 28 as a senior judge.
Over the course of his career, Conti presided over many high-profile Bay Area cases, including the sentencing of Sara Jane Moore, who attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford, and a copyright case involving Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty.
In 1979 and 1980, Conti oversaw a grueling nine-month racketeering trial involving members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club. In a phone interview with The Recorder shortly after he announced his intention to retire, Conti said the case was “very tiring and difficult” since his wife, children and mother were all threatened and required protection from the U.S. Marshals. “If I was smart in those days I would have recused myself, but I was young and energetic,” Conti said.
Conti called being a federal district judge “the best job that anybody can ever have” and said he never had a desire to be appointed to the appellate bench. “All those people do is read papers. We see people and we hear their problems and we try to come up with solutions,” Conti said. “I’ve considered every case I’ve had as a learning experience.”