There was a yin and yang to U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar’s investiture ceremony Thursday afternoon at the federal courthouse in San Francisco.
The Northern District's newest judge was lauded first by a lover — longtime friend Dacher Keltner, director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and an expert in compassion, gratitude and other positive emotions.
Keltner described Tigar as a “searcher” with an appreciation for the “sublime.” (Practitioners take note: According to Keltner, if Tigar ever takes a pause on the bench, turns away and returns with misty eyes, you’ll know your argument is resonating.)
Next up to fete Tigar was a fighter — veteran S.F. trial lawyer John Keker, who hired Tigar in 1994 fresh from a stint in the federal public defender’s office.
Th ex-Marine described the young Tigar as a talented and brash attorney who was “a little cocky sometimes.” He added: “We made him a partner as quickly as we could.”
The Keltner-Keker line up was like having a speech from the Dali Lama followed up by martial arts actor Chuck Norris, Tigar joked when it was his turn at the podium in the ceremonial courtroom.
The induction was classic Northern District, with speeches about justice and service, and a little good-natured ribbing of the new member of the club, in the presence of local legal luminaries from the Ninth Circuit, California Supreme Court, the Alameda bench (where Tigar served for 11 years), along with big-name litigators and judicial vetters like Cristina Arguedas.
With an audience of nearly every judge from the Northern District, Keker declared: "When the job is done right, district judges are the most important people in America," because they decide "how free we are."
"Judge Jon Tigar, we tell you we are all counting on you to protect us."
Chief Judge Claudia Wilken performed the ceremonial swearing in, assisted in donning the robe by Tigar's wife Caroline Avery — a "fully recovered" attorney, as he put it.
His high-school and college-aged sons led the pledge of allegiance with Tigar’s 96-year-old grandmother and his father, the legendary human rights lawyer Michael Tigar, looking on. (Also in attendance: Northern District judicial nominee Bill Orrick, whose appointment has lagged in the U.S. Senate for more than nine months. Both Tigar and Orrick were recommended to the White House by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and nominated in June 2012.)
True to Keltner’s predictions, Tigar was visibly moved by the ceremony and the gathering of supporters. He choked up — and a pin drop could be heard — when he recalled his clerkship in Alabama for Judge Robert Vance of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in 1989, the year Vance was murdered by an angry litigant.
“I’m sorry Judge Vance isn’t here,” said Tigar, who keeps the judge’s photo in his chambers.
Tigar pledged to approach his role with humility and gratitude and to remember the difference “between the size of the office and the size of the person.”
As a judge in Alameda County, Tigar said he posted a quote from the Book of Proverbs on the back side of the bench that read: “If one gives answer before he hears, it is folly and shame.”