An Appreciation of Judge Herman

Thank you, Greg Herring, for allowing me to highjack HLG’s blog and write a little something about my friend, mentor and former boss, Judge James E. Herman, who passed earlier this month after what his wife, Judge Denise de Bellefuille, described as a stoic battle with leukemia.  If you want to read about the amazing facts of Jim’s life and accomplishments, they are here: James E. Herman – The Santa Barbara Independent , in this lovely obituary written by Jim’s dear friend and right-arm attorney, Alan A. Blakeboro.  I won’t repeat those here; rather this a few musings on how working with Jim affected my legal career, and me as human being.

I started working for Jim in 1997 when we were at Rogers, Sheffield & Herman in Santa Barbara and when he and Alan moved to Reicker, Pfau, Pyle, McRoy & Herman, he brought me with him.  He told me the story once of when he worked as a public defender in Riverside, he gave his business card to the court clerk – thereafter she continued to call him “Jamesey.”  He couldn’t figure out why on earth she was calling him, somewhat affectionately, “Jamesey.”  He then realized he had given her his business card which read, “James E.” Herman.  After than I always, somewhat irreverently in fun, referred to him as “James E.”  

One of my fondest memories of Jim was when we were beginning a multi-day jury trial in Anaheim, and he asked me to sit at counsel table and assist with voir dire.  It was my first experience in a court trial.  He taught me that as he went through the jury panelists, he was not only trying to illicit any bias, but also trying to determine whether or not the panelist was a leader.  Hmmmmm.  If a person is biased against our client but has very low leadership qualities and is more of a follower, then that person could be swayed to see things from our point of view.  So, in addition to their interests and personal facts, I would give them a leadership score (on my little sheet of squares – it was paper back then) based on their answers to questions regarding leadership.  Jim was so folksy and likeable, and did such an incredible job with voir dire, that the case settled, literally, on the steps of the Superior Court in Anaheim during the first break after the jury was empaneled.

Another great memory was when Jim did a five-day NASD arbitration in Los Angeles.  We had a wonderful client and we worked long hours preparing and organizing for each day.  It was such an honor to be involved with a case at that level – it was my first opportunity to really see how a case moves from inception through the judicial system.  In that case, our client was accused, during the trial, of doctoring documents by writing notes to appear to have been contemporaneously written at the time of the tortious actions but were fraudulent.  I remember working with our client to try to figure out why we had copies of documents with these notes, and copies without.  Jim realized that she would send us copies, make copies for various uses, and continue to write notes, etc. and send additional copies to us.  We worked through the night and found, you guessed it, an example of where the opposing party had done the exact same thing.  They produced two copies of the same document – one version and a second version with changes.  The lead arbitrator on the panel acquiesced that sometimes people make changes to documents.  This taught me how important document control is throughout a case, and how we have to maintain source information on all copies.  That case ended in a “split the baby” decision from the NASD.  I remember I was a little heartbroken we did not win the case outright, but Jim told me, “Look, if you’re not losing trials, you’re not trying enough cases.” 

While I worked for Jim, there was an occasion when he trailing to start trial on four hours’ notice in Santa Barbara Superior Court.  Jim then appeared for a trial call in another case where, in the same courtroom where he was trailing, he was set to trail that case!  Jim said to the judge on the bench at the time, “Your honor, you cannot make me trail myself!”  The Court was unmoved.

What I will always remember the most about Jim was his unwavering commitment to service.  When I first started working for him, he was on the board of the Santa Barbara Bar Association.  Then he became President of the County Bar, and his pet project was working with the SBSC Court Administrator to put “technology in the courtroom” in Department 13.  He was responsible for bringing the infrastructure and, at the time, new technology in the courtrooms such as wiring, screens and Elmos.  Prior to that, if you wanted an Elmo or to display video testimony, et cetera, you had to bring your own.

Later, Jim became a Governor on the Board of Governors of the State Bar of California, eventually becoming President.  His inauguration as President was a wonderful event and great for the Santa Barbara Bar.  Jim hosted me and my family for the weekend so we could attend the inauguration in Monterey.  Talk about feeling important and appreciated!  He did not have to do that, and it went a long way.  I was proud to be there.

Jim also created an MCLE annual event called the Mason Brown Trial Skills Workshop.  Mason Brown had been an opposing attorney against Jim on a number of bank cases in Los Angeles.  The two had become friends and, when Mason Brown passed away, his widow and Jim started a foundation for the workshop.  This wasn’t a typical MCLE workshop – it brought people from Hollywood to teach how juries and judges see attorneys when they are presenting their cases.  He brought in cutting edge technology to show how to be seamless in presentation of evidence, and how attorneys in a trial setting are really “actors” telling a story.  As Alan said in his obituary, one of Jim’s favorite comments was “don’t get lost in the capillaries – go for the jugular!”  In so many cases, attorneys and clients can get lost in the irrelevant details which can be confusing to a jury.  He taught to just go for the broad strokes and tell the story that hit all the elements of the cause of action.

I joined the National Association of Legal Assistants when I worked for Jim.  He would often cover the cost of my attending their annual meeting in various places throughout the country.  From Jim, I learned the importance of associations and the good work they do in bringing people together and growing our professions.  I eventually sat for the two-day Certified Legal Assistant exam in Los Angeles and passed.  I have been a member and president of both the Ventura and Santa Barbara Paralegal Associations and have obtained three Advanced Certified Paralegal certificates, all due to Jim’s influence on my career.

Jim and Denise were there for our family as I had children – even coming to my son’s first birthday party.  Jim had the best, driest, sense of humor!  I remember once when my 4-year-old son was running around the firm and came into Jim’s office and saw a skull paperweight on Jim’s desk.  As he picked it up and was staring at it, Jim said, “Hey! Put that down!  That’s my dad!” 

We were both huge football fans and, of course, being from Missouri, Jim was a Kansas City fan.  I am a Chargers fan and since both teams are in the same division, a bit of a rivalry grew between us.  At one point, Jim had a disgusting sweaty old Chiefs hat that we bet I would have to wear in the office if my team lost.  And alas, of course we did – we’re the Chargers.  We continued to pass that hat back and forth for years.

If you’re with me this far, I appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts about my dear friend.  Jim had the ability to make a person feel important, seen, and valued.  His contribution to the Santa Barbara and California legal community was huge, and he gave endlessly of his time for this profession he loved.  We had lunch a few years ago and he expressed how much he enjoyed the judiciary.  I will miss him and miss sending him my annual, “Happy Bastille Day!” greeting on his birthday.  He was one in a million.

Cyndi Clemente is a Certified Paralegal assisting Herring Law Group’s family law practice since ‘Day One’ in 2015