A History of the Eastern District of California, page 2

Judge Coyle

Judge Crocker took senior status on January 1, 1981. On April 1, 1982, President Reagan appointed Robert E. Coyle, a member of the Board of Governors of the State Bar of California and a partner in the McCormick, Barstow firm in Fresno to fill his slot. (The delay of 16 months in filling the vacancy created by Judge Crocker's leaving is not unusual.)

Chief Judge Coyle & Chief Judge Emeritus

When Judge Karlton's term as Chief Judge expired on January 28, 1990, Judge Coyle became the court's fifth Chief Judge. Judge Karlton became the district's first "Chief Judge Emeritus", a title created to designate those judges whose seven year terms as chief judge had been served and who were still sitting as active judges.

Judges Shubb, Levi and Wanger

Judge Coyle's term as chief judge witnessed what could be characterized as the second-most-significant change in the short history of the district. In a short period of less than one month between December 29, 1989 and January 20, 1990, Judge Price and Judge Schwartz took senior status, and Judge Ramirez resigned from the bench to join the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliff.

On October 1, 1990, President Bush appointed David F. Levi and William B. Shubb to the positions in Sacramento, and the following February he appointed Oliver W. Wanger to the position in Fresno. In those four months, the pendulum had swung back in the other direction. The political composition of the district had shifted from the bench of predominantly Democratic appointed judges to one of predominantly Republican appointees.

Judge Burrell

By 1991, the work of the district became such that Congress authorized an additional "temporary" judgeship in Sacramento. A judge appointed to fill a temporary position enjoys the same life tenure as all other Article III judges, but will not be replaced after the term of the position expires. President Bush named as that judge Garland E. Burrell, Jr., a former Deputy City Attorney and Assistant United States Attorney, who had served as Chief of the Civil Division.

Judges Damrell and Ishii and Chief Judge Shubb

When Judge Garcia took senior status in 1996, President Clinton appointed Frank C. Damrell, Jr., a Modesto attorney and son of the former Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge of the same name, to fill his position. Judge Damrell thus became the court's second judge from Stanislaus County. Ironically, Judge Damrell not only succeeded to the seat once held by Judge Halbert, but at one time resided in the same house where Judge Halbert had previously lived.

Judge Coyle's assumption of senior status in May of 1996 left another vacancy in Fresno, which was filled by Judge Anthony Ishii, a former Fresno County Superior Court judge, who once was a pharmacist. Judge Shubb became the district's sixth chief judge.

Judges England and O'Neill

When Judge Karlton took senior status in May of 2000, another vacancy was created in Sacramento. President George W. Bush filled it in September of 2002 with Sacramento County Superior Court Judge, and former collegiate football coach who had signed with the NFL, Morrison C. England, Jr.

When Judge Wanger took senior statue in 2006, President Bush appointed Magistrate Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill to replace him in Fresno. Before he was selected as a Magistrate Judge, Judge O'Neill, a former police officer, was Presiding Judge of the Fresno County Superior Court.

Dean Levi and Judge Mendez

When Judge Shubb's term as Chief Judge expired in 2003, Judge Levi became the District's Chief Judge. Shortly thereafter, following in the footsteps of his father, Edward H. Levi, who had been the Dean of the University of Chicago Law School before he became Solicitor General and later Attorney General, Judge Levi satisfied a long time ambition when he hung up his judicial robes in 2007 to become the Dean of the Duke University Law School.

To fill his position, President George W. Bush appointed Sacramento County Superior Court Judge John A. Mendez. Judge Mendez was born in Oakland, California and received his undergraduate degree from Stanford University and his J.D. from Harvard. Before his appointment to the Superior Court, he had been an Assistant U. S. Attorney in San Jose, and served as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California from 1992 to 1993. When not serving in the U. S. Attorney's Office, he was in private practice in Sacramento.

Judge Burrell filled in for Judge Levi as Chief Judge for several months, before turning over the reins to Judge Ishii. Upon Judge Ishii's assuming senior status on October 31, 2012, Judge England became the district's Chief Judge.

Judges Mueller, Nunley and Drozd

Judge Damrell took senior status on December 31, 2008. To fill his position, President Obama nominated the first woman Article III Judge in the District's history. Kimberly J. Mueller, who had served as a United States Magistrate Judge since 2003, was confirmed and assumed the duties of United States District Judge on December 21, 2010.

In September of 2011, Judge Wanger took full retirement to return to the private practice of law in Fresno. In December of 2011, Judge Damrell followed suit and took full retirement to head up the Sacramento office of the law firm of Cotchett. Petrie, and McCarthy.

Judge Burrell took senior status on his birthday, July 4, 2012. President Obama nominated Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Troy L. Nunley to take his place on the court. Judge Nunley, sworn in on March 26, 2013, had served as a Deputy District Attorney in Alameda and Sacramento Counties, as well as a Deputy Attorney General before his appointment to the Supeior Court in 2002.

It took a while to replace Judge Ishii in Fresno, but on February 18, 2016, Dale A. Drozd was formally enrobed in a ceremony in the rotunda of the Robert E. Coyle United States Courthouse in Fresno. Judge Drozd had previously sat in as a United States Magistrate Judge in Sacramento, but moved his duty station to Fresno to assume his Article III duties.

Roseville Explosion

It would be difficult to single out any case or cases that should be included in a history of the district. Many cases seem important at the time, but for the most part the court has simply decided cases and controversies as they arose. At least three cases deserve special mention. The first would be the so-called Roseville explosion case.

Early on the morning of April 28, 1973, residents of the Sacramento area were awakened by what sounded like a bomb attack. Tritonol bombs were being transported from Hawthorne, Nevada to the Bay Area in boxcars of a Southern Pacific train. As the train passed through Roseville, for some unexplained reason, the bombs ignited. There ensued a lawsuit between the Southern Pacific Transportation Company and the United States to determine who was responsible for the damage caused to the homeowners whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the explosion.

The trial of that case lasted over two years. It was the longest trial in the history of the district, and Judge MacBride cites it as the primary reason for his taking senior status.

Squeaky Fromme

The next case would be United States v. Lynette "Squeaky Fromme", tried by Judge MacBride in 1976. The case did not involve any complex legal issues. It did not result in a decision which affected any large number of people. It was significant only because of the attention it received in the news media.

As many will recall, on September 5, 1975 a young woman in a red robe pointed a pistol at President Gerald Ford as he walked through Capitol Park in Sacramento. In a way the trial was farcical. It was unusual in the sense that the defendant, determined to act as her own attorney, did not seek an acquittal. She sought to use the trial to bring public attention to a cause. The trial focused the nation's attention on the bizarre events unfolding in Judge MacBride's courtroom over a period of several weeks. In the end, both sides won--on November 26, 1975 she was found guilty, and just before Christmas she was sent to prison for life.

The Unabomber Case

The third case would be United States v. Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber case, presided over by Judge Burrell in 1997-98. Although the case ended in a guilty plea before trial, it attracted world wide media attention, with news reporters, their mobile homes and vehicles, and television equipment filling a whole city block across the street, which became knows as "Camp Kaczynski."

The New United States Courthouses

In January of 1999, the Sacramento court moved to its present home in the new United States Courthouse at 501 I Street. A 16 story building with 19 courtrooms, it has made a spectacular addition to the City's skyline. In 2005, the new 8 story federal courthouse opened in Fresno.


2001 United States District Court for the Eastern District of California Historical Society. Site Meter