Hon. David A. Garcia (Ret.), who served 20 distinguished years on San Francisco’s municipal and superior courts, is recognized as one of the best law and motion judges in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is well known for his energy, intelligence and thoughtful decision-making.
Please provide a snapshot of your legal career prior to joining JAMS.
Before becoming a mediator/arbitrator/referee, I commenced my career as a legal services attorney working for the San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation. I left legal services to teach full time as a professor of law at the University of San Francisco School of Law, where I taught Evidence, Civil Procedure, Welfare Law and Employment Law. Thereafter, I served as a judge in San Francisco for 20 years.
As a judge, I served in a variety of assignments, including in the misdemeanor trial, felony trial, family law, and civil trial departments. In the final eight years of my tenure, I presided over the master calendar in the civil law and motion department, which handled all pretrial motions for approximately 95% of the civil filings in San Francisco.
While serving as a judge and thereafter, I continued to teach as an adjunct professor of law at the University of San Francisco School of Law and at the Golden Gate University School of Law, teaching civil procedure, civil litigation and landlord-tenant litigation courses.
I have also served as a member of various community boards, including the San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation, the San Francisco Conservation Corps and the Mayor’s Office of Employment and Training. I am a co-author of the Landlord-Tenant California Practice Guide from the Rutter Group.
How did you first become interested in alternative dispute resolution (ADR)?
When I was a judge, my colleague Bill Cahill was serving as a writs and receivers judge. I observed him also serving as a settlement judge. We had weekly breakfasts, during which we would discuss our activities. Consequently, I attended the first weeklong mediation class provided by California Center for Judicial Education and Research in 1996. I later attended a Straus Institute two-day mediation program and began assisting in settlement conferences while serving as a law and motion judge. After Bill left the superior court to join JAMS, we continued our practice of weekly breakfast meetings. Ultimately, as I approached my 20-year anniversary on the bench, we discussed whether I might be interested in working at JAMS. The rest is history.
What are some of the highlights of your career to date?
While at JAMS, I have enjoyed a varied career and have been able to arbitrate many complex and interesting disputes, including real estate, professional malpractice, estate, family, employment and commercial landlord-tenant disputes. My mediation practice has been equally varied and interesting. I have also had numerous interesting and complex special master assignments, mostly involving discovery, but a few have included assignments for all purposes, and I have presided over several trials. Most interestingly, I was assigned as a special master to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to investigate and report on the relationships of Mexican nationals (mostly young adults ages 19 to 23) who were plaintiffs in a sex trafficking case in San Francisco to attorneys representing the plaintiffs in federal district court and an attorney in Mexico who purported to represent them in Mexico. The assignment required that I travel to Mexico for a week, where I interviewed the plaintiffs, the judge and prosecutor of a criminal case brought against the accused sex trafficker; the Mexican attorney who purported to represent the plaintiffs’ interest in Mexico; and a second Mexican attorney associated with plaintiffs’ counsel in San Francisco. I also interviewed the Bay Area plaintiffs’ attorneys. At the conclusion of my inquiry, I recommended the distribution of funds to the youths (trusts were established), and payments were made to the attorneys.
How would you describe your mediation and arbitration style?
I consider myself to be eclectic and fluid in my style, which is dependent upon the parties and the controversy. Consequently, I am facilitative, evaluative (merits based) and transformative as the needs of the case and individuals may dictate.
What do you enjoy most about mediating?
I enjoy delving into the intricacies of the case, the legal and factual nuances. But personally, I mostly enjoy interacting with the lawyers and the parties in trying to come to an understanding of the parties and their deeper interests to assist them in achieving resolution.
Are there any practice areas that you are particularly interested in developing at JAMS?
I continue to be interested in employment law, real property (with a special interest in landlord-tenant disputes, both residential and commercial) and business disputes. I have occasion to mediate and arbitrate insurance disputes and would like to see my insurance practice expand. I have also been recently involved in multiple cannabis-related landlord-tenant disputes, both as an arbitrator and as a mediator, and I have an interest in developing that aspect of my real property practice. Mostly I would like to continue to practice in a variety of capacities and case types. In addition to my arbitration, mediation and special master practice, I have served as a neutral evaluator and would like to see that practice continue.
What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am proud of all my professional service and consider that my contributions to the public weal have been significant in each of my capacities—as a legal services attorney, law professor, judge and ADR provider. I would change no aspect of my career and would not elevate any part of my service over any other. Our highest calling is to be in service to others, and I have striven to discharge my duty in that regard in every phase of my career. On a side note, I am perhaps most proud of having been a founding board member of a (diverse) grade school in San Francisco. We started with six families and opened with 17 children and pre-K and kindergarten classes. Before I retired from the board (upon the graduation of my second son), we grew the school to 325 students (pre-K through 8). Both my children graduated and went on to high school in San Francisco. My older son starts college in September.
In your opinion, what can ADR professionals do to support diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts?
ADR specialists can promote DEI efforts by being inclusive in our practice and in our social activities, and by being open, respectful and accepting of each other.
What DEI initiatives are important to you that you have taken part in?
Whenever possible, I attend events for or sponsored by underrepresented bar associations, in particular young attorney and law student events. My career has been dedicated to diversity and inclusion, beginning with my law student years and continuing through my service with JAMS, where a significant percentage of my clients have been diverse.
If you could meet and chat with any person throughout history, living or not, who would that be and why?
I would most like to meet and talk to my great-grandmother, Rosenda Salinas, who brought my grandfather and her husband, my great-grandfather, and much of her extended family to El Paso, Texas, in 1902. She quickly opened a grocery store on the main avenue to Juarez. She was a matriarch of her family and community, and supported many during the Great Depression. She died in Chihuahua when I was four. My mother took me to her funeral. It is one of my earliest memories. She was a dominant figure in our family history, and I would love to converse with her.
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
When I was young, my father once said to me, “David, cuando sabes que estas correcto, has perdido todo su creatividad y initiativo.” Translation: David, when you know you are right, you have lost all your creativity and initiative. That advice resonates with me to this day. This has caused me to strive to keep an open mind, to listen to others, to consider the validity of everyone’s viewpoint and perspective, to recognize that no matter how certain I am that I may be right in my viewpoint, that other viewpoints, other solutions may be equally valid, viable, and possible. I think this flexibility has aided me throughout my life, my judicial career, and continues to benefit me in the discharge of my responsibilities as a neutral.
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