Oct 01, 2018
September Member Luncheon
Judge Orrick: A Career Advancing Justice
Oct 01, 2018
By Greg Brockbank
At the regularly scheduled MCBA general membership lunch meeting on September 26, MCBA Board President Tom Brown interviewed US District Court Judge William Orrick in an informative and highly interesting program. Even if, as an attorney, one doesn't follow the federal courts very closely, one almost can't help but to have heard the Orrick name – perhaps because of his famous father, who served as a federal judge for many years, or his grandfather, for whom the eponymous law firm in San Francisco is named.
And like his father, the current Judge Orrick was motivated by public service (the father in the Kennedy administration, the son in the Obama administration). The current Judge Orrick started as a civil rights lawyer--he went to work right out of law school for a legal aid firm in Georgia (starting salary: $11,000) because it had a good reputation for mentoring civil rights attorneys. He never considered working in his father's famous firm in part because he did not want to be famous for something he had nothing to do with. Eventually, he ended up at the Coblentz law firm in San Francisco, where he specialized in the area of "complex commercial litigation," which he admitted tells you nothing.
Judge Orrick touched on his feelings about becoming "politically active," his deliberations as a judge, and the challenges he faces in both criminal and civil cases. The criminal attorneys that appear before him are almost always professional, experienced and competent, but the civil attorneys are more of a mixed bag. He finds that he is getting more caustic about such things as attorneys’ inability to handle discovery without needing to enlist him to settle disputes, and he shakes his head at attorneys who hear his tentative rulings and then in oral argument fail to address any of the tentative reasons for ruling against them.
Judge Orrick also talked about his case management conferences and his caseload, which includes the full range of subject matter from antitrust cases to civil rights cases. A sadly memorable recent trial for him was a RICO gang case in San Francisco’s Western Addition in which the jury found five defendants guilty. That case is on appeal. Aside from showing a pervasive lack of opportunity, the evidence involved several murders that, according to the prosecution, were not about money or territory but respect—they happened purely because someone had dissed someone else. He noted that sentencing raised challenging issues in light of the age of the defendants, the severity of the crimes and the environment the defendants were raised in.
Asked about possible changes to his docket in the future, the judge cited an old saying by his father that what judges have done and continue to do hasn't changed much, and probably won't in the future: dispensing justice. Finally, when asked about the Justice Department generally in light of the current political environment, Judge Orrick reflected on his experience in Main Justice and his confidence in the high quality and non-partisan nature of the career civil servants there, no matter the administration, who strongly believe in the Department’s mission: advancing justice.
Visit the MCBA Facebook page for pictures from the luncheon.
Greg Brockbank is a thirty-plus-year attorney and civic and political activist, having served for twenty-two years on the College of Marin Board of Trustees and then on the San Rafael City Council. He is the senior member and immediate past chair of the Marin Democratic Party governing board and has attended thirty state Democratic conventions. For over twenty years he has also appeared as a commentator and election-night co-host on public access television.