May 2, 2012
By Scottie Thomaston
Chief Judge James Ware of the Northern District of California will retire in August. Ware is the judge who took over the case against Proposition 8 in 2011 after his predecessor Judge Walker left the bench. He decided a few of the remaining issues in the case, ruling that a gay judge doesn’t have to recuse himself in a case involving gay rights and issuing decisions about video records from the Proposition 8 trial. When he became chief judge, he announced that it would be for a short-term appointment. Ware has served as a judge since 1990.
U.S. District Judge James Ware, who has spent most of his career on the federal bench in San Jose, announced late Monday that he is retiring in August, opening up both a federal judgeship and the chief judge’s post. Oakland-based U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken, next in line by seniority, will take over as chief judge, making her just the second woman to hold the top job in Northern California’s federal courts.
Ware, 65, has had a relatively short stint as chief judge, leading the court since January 2011. Chief judges typically served seven-year terms.
However, in an interview last year with this newspaper Ware said from the outset that he was unlikely to serve out his full term, planning to step down as a judge not long after he was entitled to full retirement benefits.
His departure along with several other vacancies in the district will give the next president the opportunity to make a mark on the district in terms of its judicial make-up:
Ware’s retirement will leave four vacancies on the Bay Area federal bench, giving the winner of this fall’s presidential election a chance to shape the region’s federal court. The Obama administration has yet to nominate anyone for three of the openings, and time may be running out for getting nominees through the Senate in an election year.
When Ware leaves in August, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken will become Chief Judge.