Santa Barbara County has a new judge
Judge Denise deBellefeuille enrobes Judge James E. Herman at the Solvang Veterans Center Thursday. //Brian Kent/Staff

James Herman this year got pummeled by a speeding car on a South African street, and began a new career in the shadow of the world/s media, so the Superior Court judge had reason to enjoy his enrobing ceremony Thursday before 200 friends.

John Van de Kamp, former California attorney general and current president of the State Bar, was a featured speaker at the enrobing in Solvang/s Veterans Memorial Hall.

"As a trial lawyer, Jim was always very well-prepared," Van de Kamp said in an interview. "He speaks well, and has a very sort of off-beat, catch-you-by-surprise sense of humor. I think he/s going to be a fine judge."

Herman/s wife Denise de Bellfeuille, a Superior Court judge in Santa Barbara, placed the black judge/s robe on her husband during the ceremony.

"It/s a real thrill to have a two-judge family," de Bellfeuille said in an interview. "That I/ve been a judge for 12 years and can provide Jim with the benefit of my experiences gives new meaning to the phrase /the woman behind the man./"

Also during the event, a bailiff convened a special session of court, and Herman recited his oath.

What a difference a few months can make.

While touring South Africa in March, Herman was struck by a car as he crossed a busy street in Soweto. He spent 12 days laid up in a hospital there, recovering from major injuries.

"I was there to hear about South Africa/s legal system, but I ended up learning much more about its medical system," Herman said during an interview this week from his chambers at the Santa Maria Court Complex.

On May 16, as Herman continued to recover, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed the Santa Barbara-based attorney to a vacant judgeship in Santa Maria.

After transferring his caseload to his partners at the law firm of Reicker, Pfau, Pyle & McRoy, Herman began work in Santa Maria June 13.

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That was the same day a jury returned a not guilty verdict in the Michael Jackson case. Herman remembers well the throngs of fans and media present as he arrived to court for his first day of work.

The judge spent his rookie weeks on the bench alongside a succession of more experienced judges. They monitored Herman as he heard criminal cases and issued orders and sentences.

"That was when I had my training wheels on," said Herman, who is now flying solo.

Though he is new to the bench, Herman said he is astonished by how many cases cross his desk that are in some way related to the drug methamphetamine.

"It is a scourge that ripples through our courts and community," Herman said, adding that he admires Judge Rogelio Flores/ work diverting drug offenders to treatment instead of incarceration.

Herman, 60, spent the past 20 years practicing business litigation. He also served as president of the California State Bar from 2002 to 2003, and was a member of the California Judicial Council, which sets policy for state courts.

Born in Kansas City, Mo., Herman earlier served as a deputy public defender for Riverside, San Diego and Santa Barbara counties.

A Democrat, Herman filled a vacancy left by Judge James Jennings, who retired in June 2004 with more than four years remaining in his term. The seat will reopen in 2008 for an election, though sitting judges are usually given the edge. Herman filled the last bench vacancy in Santa Maria.

The position pays ,143,838 per year.

Quintin Cushner can be reached at 739-2217 or qcushner@santamariatimes.com.

July 15, 2005

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