JUDGE J. WILLIAM McLAFFERTY: Cat Herder Extraordinaire

When describing our incoming Presiding Judge, would you say: Extraordinary Father; Comic; Educator; Evenly Handed Judicial Officer; OR ... Cat Herder? Now I know Judge J. William McLafferty is going to give me a hard time about that because I may have even promised that I wouldn’t include that byline in my story (but I had my fingers crossed).

Judge McLafferty comes to our fair city from the great state of Pennsylvania. In fact, he was going to school and working for a living when he and two of his buddies were hanging out up in the law review office lamenting over the fact that they hadn’t had a vacation when they decided they should pack up and head out to see California. Judge McLafferty had an aunt that lived out in California so they figured what the heck. After all, the steel mills and grocery stores where they were working to pay their way were not all that exciting and, hey, they deserved it! The day after the bar exam, they drove out to Bakersfield and visited with Auntie and then drove all over the State. They decided they wanted to live and work in Santa Barbara. They threw a coin into a fountain for good luck. So who was Judge McLafferty’s traveling partner? You guessed it...Patrick McKinley.

Pat made the move to California right away, but Judge McLafferty, well, he took his time. He waited a few years. Four to be exact. Once he got here, he never left. It was hard at first and he thought about packing up and heading back to PA, but he never did. He is glad about that. PA was overcast and cold and he likes good old California. Although, he is pretty sure that if he wasn’t here, he would be there.

I started my conversation with Judge McLafferty by asking him who he was gonna fire first. You know, you want to get right into the juicy part of the story to find out what there is to know about the inner workings of the courthouse. What I found out was shocking. No one! Everyone gets to keep their job, their desk, their courtroom, their cubicle. I couldn’t believe it! All this power and no upsets? While I did learn that he had the power to change all the Judge’s physical courtroom assignments and calendars, he wasn’t inclined to do so.

Most of you know that Judge McLafferty is currently presiding over the probate, trust, and limited civil calendars. While he likes this assignment, there is a part of him that misses the complex civil litigation of the big juicy cases. It reminds him of the days when he was practicing law instead of making all the decisions. However, now that he is in charge, he likes to see cases resolved. He likes to see them settle early and therefore he has taken a keen interest in the development and launching of the CMADRESS program. Judge McLafferty was keen to observe that fee clauses were driving cases to trial and most litigants had never even heard of a CCP 998 offer. This troubled him, and it was clogging up his Friday settlement conference calendar. So, he teamed up with Commissioner Sterne and others to obtain a grant and launch the CMADRESS program.

No interview would be complete without some information regarding women on the bench. I had that on my list of questions, but I didn’t get to ask it. Judge McLafferty beat me to the punch. While he strongly believes we need more women on the bench, he knows that qualifications outweigh any other criterion. Education and training are key factors in this mission. A great judge has to be able to make decisions. While this may seem obvious to some, he reveals that some judges really hate to make decisions. This is a consideration that should be heavily weighed. He did say that our very own Judge de Bellefeuille is a model example. She is always willing to work hard and be a team player. In his words: “we need more of her on the bench - people willing to work hard and take assignments.”

I asked Judge McLafferty if he met a genie who could grant him 3 wishes, what would he wish for? He had a hard time answering the question. He said that question went against the grain of how he was raised and how he raised his children. “I don’t wish for things, I work for them.” However, after much prodding and probing, I did get him to commit to the following:

1. A Healthy Family

2. Win a Lot of Money To Start A Private High School

3. Investors - Lots of Silent Investors for His School

Judge McLafferty feels that children these days are handicapped by the education system. He does not see them being educated at the same level as they used to be and this is not a service to our children. They are not ready to meet the world and this needs to be addressed. This was the most poignant and provocative information that I learned about our fearless leader. When a wish could have been for anything, not one thing was directed to himself. We look forward to a couple of great years ahead under his leadership.

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