November 28, 2004: Headlines: COS - Nigeria: Obituaries: Sacramento Bee: Nigeria RPCV Judge James T. Ford dies in California

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Nigeria: Peace Corps Nigeria : The Peace Corps in Nigeria: November 28, 2004: Headlines: COS - Nigeria: Obituaries: Sacramento Bee: Nigeria RPCV Judge James T. Ford dies in California

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Nigeria RPCV Judge James T. Ford dies in California

Nigeria RPCV Judge James T. Ford dies in California

Nigeria RPCV Judge James T. Ford dies in California

Retired judge Ford dies
Superior Court jurist is remembered for empathy and evenhanded manner.
By Cameron Jahn -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, November 28, 2004
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Throughout 20 years on the Sacramento Superior Court bench, Judge James T. Ford never lost the ability to empathize with those who came before him in the courtroom.

A criminal may have transgressed, but Ford never hardened his gaze to the human side of his job.

Mr. Ford died from complications of pancreatic cancer Friday. He was 65.

"What struck me most was when he would come home and talk about people in these heart-rending crises," said Mr. Ford's son, Dylan. "He never lost sight of people in extreme situations, who maybe had done some things they regret. ... He always saw through to the person experiencing that."

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As a lawyer in private practice before becoming a judge, Mr. Ford handled a case that eventually allowed more than 30 Japanese families in Walnut Grove to buy the property they had spent decades farming while a World War II-era law barred them from owning the land, said his wife, Bonnie.

In another landmark case from his days in private practice, he represented women who successfully sued to join the ranks of the California Highway Patrol, she said.

"He opened up the CHP to women," Bonnie Ford said.

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Mr. Ford to the Superior Court bench in 1981.

"I'll bet he has tried more sensational cases, more notorious cases than anyone in the history of the court," said Superior Court Judge Ronald Tochterman, Mr. Ford's friend and colleague on the bench.

In 1999, he rejected a lawsuit that sought to force a special election for an interim Sacramento mayor after the death of Joe Serna.

In 1993, he presided at the trial of Richard Campos, who was found guilty of firebombing the offices of minority organizations and of the attempted murder of Sacramento City Councilman Jimmie Yee.

In 1985, Mr. Ford granted city and state officials the right to board, inspect and secure the Seamill, a leaky World War II minesweeper, even though its owner, James O'Leary, challenged the judge's authority to issue the order.

During his 20 years on the bench, Mr. Ford presided at more than 300 jury trials, most of them criminal cases, including several high-profile murder cases.

In 1996, when 21-year-old Donald Pequeen demanded to be sentenced immediately after a jury found him guilty of a Citrus Heights murder, Mr. Ford complied.

Within 15 minutes of the verdict, the defendant was sentenced to prison for life without parole.

Other cases before him dealt with a second bridge over the American River in Folsom, a controversial undercover drug sting at Galt High School, a racially motivated drive-by shooting at a midtown restaurant and a Sacramento County needle exchange program.

Mr. Ford became an expert in elections law and took pains to clarify language on state ballot propositions.

During his tenure on the bench, the state Supreme Court called upon him to resolve hundreds of cases in which judges from other counties were accused of bias.

By the time he was elected presiding judge of Sacramento Superior Court in 1990, Mr. Ford had served in its family law, law and motion, and trial departments.

That same year, he was named California's trial judge of the year.

By his retirement in 2001, Mr. Ford had gained a reputation for being evenhanded and pleasant to work with in the courtroom.

"He was a pleasure to appear in front of because he always made everyone feel comfortable, which is not always the case with all judges," Tochterman said.

On occasion, however, Mr. Ford made it clear he wouldn't be putting up with funny business in his courtroom.

During jury selection for a murder case in 1996, he went back and forth with a local TV weatherman before telling the man he wasn't up to the task of being a juror.

And in 1992, he denied comedian Pat Paulsen a last-minute bid to get his name on the California Republican primary ballot. Paulsen had described himself in campaign literature: "They say that only a fool would run against George Bush and I am ready to accept that challenge."

Saying he just couldn't take Paulsen seriously, Mr. Ford added, "I do not want to reduce the campaign for an important office like the presidency of the United States to some kind of farce."

With an uncommon intelligence, Mr. Ford quickly mastered all areas of the law and made being a judge look easy, Tochterman said.

"Most judges struggle. You come onto the bench, and you know an area (of law) in which you've practiced. You're nervous about the other parts (of the law), and you worry," he said.

"But he never betrayed that; he was never stressed."

On his way home from work every night, Mr. Ford stopped at Taylor's Market in Land Park to buy groceries before preparing dinner. Although he liked to experiment, Bonnie Ford said she preferred his salmon.

The pair, married for 43 years, enjoyed reading plays aloud and traveling the world.

Born in Stockton, Mr. Ford met his wife at the University of Vienna, when they both were studying abroad in 1958.

Inspired by President Kennedy's idealism, the Fords signed up for the Peace Corps during the program's second year and were sent to teach in rural Nigeria in 1962.

Even into his later years, Mr. Ford's idealism never waned, according to his family.

"He believed government could be administered in such a way that people could expect justice from the halls of government," said Dylan Ford. "He wasn't a cynic by any means."

James Timothy Ford
Born: March 20, 1939
Died: Nov. 26, 2004
Remembered for: Twenty years as Sacramento Superior Court judge, including terms as presiding judge; expertise in elections law and ballot proposition wording; 1990 California trial judge of the year. A diehard Democrat, known for being evenhanded and running a pleasant courtroom.
Survived by: Wife Bonnie of Sacramento; son Dylan of Los Angeles; daughter Bridget of Fresno; brothers Patrick of Portland, Ore., and Terrence of Santa Rosa.
Memorial services: 11 a.m., Wednesday at Harry A. Nauman & Son, 4041 Freeport Blvd. Private interment to follow.

About the writer:

* The Bee's Cameron Jahn can be reached at (916) 321-1038 or

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Story Source: Sacramento Bee

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Nigeria; Obituaries



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