When the Alameda County Bar Association approached Vaughn Walker about keynoting its annual dinner, the outgoing chief judge of the Northern District asked what he should talk about. Bar association member James Wood of Reed Smith suggested Walker share what he learned in 21 years on the bench.
“How long do I talk?” Walker asked.
“About 10 minutes,” Wood told him, as Walker recounted it Thursday for several hundred ACBA members at Berkeley's Hotel Shattuck Plaza.
Noting that worked out to 30 seconds per year, Walker boiled it down to four lessons:
1) In every case there are at least two sides. Advocates, Walker said, sometimes believe too much in their clients.
2) Diversity on the bench is important, and sometimes underappreciated.
3) “Lawyers are like children, and judges are like the substitute teachers.” During his tenure he saw the bench tighten case management rules, loosen them, and now face pressure to tighten them again, each time in response to lawyer complaints.
4) The judge should always excuse the alternate jurors in a criminal case. In his very first criminal trial, Walker said, he neglected to excuse alternates until after deliberations had begun. Fortunately, he quipped, the jury acquitted the defendant, so there was no appellate issue.
Turning serious, the judge noted last weekend's shootings in Tucson, which claimed the life of the chief U.S. district judge of Arizona. Walker quoted extensively from this article, urging better treatment for mentally unstable individuals and keeping weapons away from them.
Meanwhile, incoming ACBA President Wayne Nishioka spoke of the growing diversity among political and judicial leaders at the national, state and local level, citing California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Alameda County Superior Court Judge Victoria Kolakowski, among others. Their ascension, along with judicial opinions like Walker's Prop 8 ruling recognizing the rights of same-sex couples, signal “an awakening of our better selves,” Nishioka said.
Receiving awards for distinguished service from the bar were Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith, Assistant Public Defender William Muraoka, Barristers Club chair Pamela Kong, law firm Fitzgerald Abbott & Beardsley, and the Alameda County Family Justice Center.