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As Vaughn Walker Moves On, There Are No Replacements

As you have probably heard by now, Vaughn Walker, the Chief Judge for the Northern District of California, has announced his retirement:

The United States District Court for the Northern District of California announces today that Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker will step down as chief judge effective December 31, 2010. Also, Chief Judge Walker notified President Obama by letter today that he will leave the court in February 2011.

Chief Judge Walker has been a United States District Judge since February 5, 1990 and has served as chief judge of the court since September 1, 2004. Before becoming a federal judge, Chief Judge Walker was a litigation partner at the firm now known as Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. Upon leaving the federal bench, Chief Judge Walker plans to return to the private sector.

In his letter to the President, Chief Judge Walker said: ““Concluding twenty one years of judicial service, I leave the bench with the highest respect and regard for the federal judiciary, its judges and their staff and the essential role they fulfill in our constitutional system.””

By statute, United States district chief judges are selected based on a combination of age, seniority and experience and may serve in the post for a maximum of seven years. 28 USC § 136. By application of this statute, District Judge James Ware will assume the post of chief judge of the Northern District on January 1, 2011.

That was the formal announcement I received from Walker’s chambers. For further reportage, see the always outstanding Bay area legal reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Bob Egelko. (I will take issue with one thing Egelko reported though, that Walker’s announcement was “unexpected”; I have heard rumors of him retiring at the end of the year for several months now.)

I started to write this post last night with a million thoughts swirling in my head on the plethora of important cases Walker has handled over the years and erudite opinions rendered thereon. There is far more to the man’s record than al-Haramain and Perry v. Schwarzenegger; he also sat on such blockbuster cases as the Hearst/ SF Chronicle Antitrust litigation, the Apple/Microsoft intellectual property battle, and the knock down drag out Oracle/Peoplesoft takeover war. And hundreds of others over the years that, from every opinion of his I have read over the last couple of decades, he treated with pretty much the same dedication and attention to detail as you see in the landmark cases you know him from now. Vaughn Walker was both driven and meticulous, they simply do not make many like that; even in the cream of the crop hallowed halls of the Federal judiciary, Vaughn Walker stands out and above.

But that part of Vaughn Walker’s career is winding down now, and in a little more than three months he will be out the door of his chambers at the Philip E. Burton Federal Courthouse for the last time. Many, if not most, Federal judges who retire after they are at least 65 years of age and have 15 or more years on the bench, go on “senior status” where they continue to receive full salary, but work only part time as needed and as they wish. Walker is not taking senior status though, instead Read more