Hon. Kirk H. Nakamura (Ret.)
Hon. Kirk H. Nakamura (Ret.) has joined JAMS as a neutral after a distinguished career spanning 41 years. Judge Nakamura served two decades as a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, including an assignment on the Complex Civil Litigation Panel, and presided over 300 jury trials during his tenure. These included some of the court’s most high-profile cases, including those involving the late Kobe Bryant, Snoop Dogg, Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino from the MTV reality show “Jersey Shore,” the wrongful death case of homeless, mentally ill man Kelly Thomas, judicial benefits (Sturgeon III) and Don (Marie) Callender’s estate.
Judge Nakamura served as the presiding judge for the nation’s seventh-largest court (144 judicial officers and 1,500 employees) during 2019 and 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he personally came into the courthouse every workday from March to late November 2020, leading the court in safely conducting 200 in-person jury trials and signing 40 administrative orders without a single criminal case dismissal for violating a criminal defendant’s speedy trial rights.
Judge Nakamura was a civil litigator for 21 years before taking the bench, handling complex civil litigation, including multi-party land subsidence; construction defect litigation; asbestos litigation; catastrophic multi-party cases; governmental entity litigation, including inverse condemnation; and police misconduct and inverse condemnation cases, including extensive appellate work. He has handled a wide range of personal injury cases, including medical malpractice and auto accident litigation. He has extensive experience in insurance litigation, including coverage and bad faith disputes.
Judge Nakamura’s leadership and dedication to the rule of law have been repeatedly recognized at the national, state and local levels. He has received the Trailblazer Award from the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and served on the Executive Committee of the National Association for Presiding Judges and Court Executive Officers. Judge Nakamura was elected president of the California Asian – Pacific American Judges Association and has served on the State Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee and the Executive Board of the California Judges Association. He was elected president of the Orange County Japanese American Lawyers Association as well as president of the Orange County Asian American Bar Association.
Locally, Judge Nakamura received awards from the Japanese American Bar Association of Los Angeles, the Orange County Bar Association (OCBA), Orange County Constitutional Rights Foundation, Orange County American Board of Trial Advocates, Orange County Trial Lawyers Association and Orange County Asian American Bar Association.
In addition to being recognized, Judge Nakamura continuously lends a hand to initiatives striving to support the Japanese American Community in Orange County. Highlights from these initiatives include, heading the effort to rename the West Justice Center after Justice Stephen K. Tamura and authoring numerous articles on both the Supreme Court’s decisions on the Japanese American Internment as well as the recent rise in Asian hate crimes.
Judge Nakamura was also chosen to speak at the Federal Court’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 with Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, and at a Memorial Day service for Sergeant Kazuo Masuda.
Judge Nakamura has a long history of supporting alternative dispute programs. He was the OCBA co-chair of the ADR Committee. He acted as chair of the superior court’s Temporary Judge Committee. He was co-founder of the court’s Foreclosure Relief Settlement Program during the 2008 foreclosure crisis. He expanded the use of temporary judges to assist in settlement conferences to address the backlog during the pandemic. He was also on a statewide subcommittee exploring the expanded use of new technology to perform remote settlement hearings.
- Business & Commercial
- Presided over partnership dispute litigation
- Presided over breach of contract/lease litigation regarding rent escalation clause and lease renewal clauses
- Presided over fraud and breach of contract cases involving Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (UFTA)
- Presided over matter of first impression regarding the use of offers in inverse condemnation cases
- Presided over insurance bad faith litigation
- Presided over multiple administrative mandate cases, including wrongful expulsion from law school and permit to demolish historically designated property
- Presided over writ of mandate regarding election fraud, city charter issues (invalidate Maintenance Assessment District) and challenge to municipality nuisance abatement ordinance
- As a judge, handled breach of contract actions regarding failure to provide contracted services
- As a judge, handled writs of possession relating to claims of multi-million-dollar debts owed
- As a judge, handled case involving the rescission of the liquidation of partnership shares due to claimed insufficient value
- Construction Defect
- As an attorney, handled multi-party construction/design defect cases involving schools, condominiums and large development projects
- As an attorney, handled matters involving change order payment issues
- Presided over matters involving easement issues
- Presided over matters involving insurance issues, including indemnity, apportionment and failure to defend
- Employment Law
- Presided over multiple wrongful termination matters, including sex and race discrimination allegations against county supervisor
- As an attorney, handled matter concerning termination of medical school physician
- As a judge, approved multiple class action and California Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) wage and hour settlements
- Presided over Labor Board appeals involving Labor Code violations
- As a judge, handled numerous PAGA/class action employment cases involving alleged Labor Code violations, including, but not limited to, failure to pay overtime, failure to reimburse expenses, failure to timely pay, failure to provide wage statements and failure to provide required breaks
- As a judge, handled informal discovery conferences involving the scope of discovery in PAGA/class action litigation, including issues of independent contractor/employee status
- As presiding judge, oversaw the court’s handling of labor issues involving the court’s 1,500 employees and 144 judicial officers, including those involving the Family and Medical Leave Act, vacation accrual, stay-at-home orders and collective bargaining
- Environmental Law
- As an attorney, handled litigation of multiple complex cases involving Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act
- Presided over litigation concerning rejection of city’s approval of large office building complex under California Environmental Quality Act
- Presided over water right allocation matters involving rights/costs to access water basin
- Health Care
- Presided over multi-million-dollar litigation between a self-insured labor group and its medical various providers alleging fraudulent billing practices
- As an attorney, handled matters involving claims against insurance carriers for failure to pay claims
- Presided over insurance coverage bad faith litigation involving the breadth of insurance company liability for medical decisions regarding the necessity of medical treatment
- As an attorney, wrote multiple briefs on insurance coverage issues, including those involving automobile, commercial general liability (CGL), and manuscript policies
- As an attorney and as a judge, handled insurance coverage and bad faith litigation involving the breadth of insurance company liability for duty to defend and indemnify, stacking of insurance policies and primary/secondary coverage
- As an attorney, handled cases involving the duty to defend under CGL, landlord and auto policies involving the insuring clause and exclusions (including the pollution exclusion)
- As a judge, ruled on cases involving the duty to defend under auto policies
- Intellectual Property
- Presided over misappropriation of trade secrets, including use of client lists
- Presided over trademark infringement, including breach of contract and insurance duty to defend
- Presided over noncompete clause litigation
- Personal Injury/Torts
- Presided over catastrophic personal injury matters, including traumatic brain injury, loss of limb and disfigurement cases
- As an attorney, handled multidistrict litigation involving mass torts, airline crashes, asbestos and massive hotel fire
- As an attorney, handled significant catastrophic burn matters
- Presided over wrongful death and personal injury cases involving police misconduct and jail misconduct
- Presided over police chase personal injury matter alleging governmental roadway design defect and dangerous condition of public property
- Professional Liability
- As an attorney and as a judge, handled numerous medical malpractice cases, including those involving wrongful death and lack of informed consent
- As an attorney and as a judge, handled dental malpractice cases, including those involving wrongful death and lack of informed consent
- Presided over medical board license revocation appeals
- As an attorney, handled products liability matter involving car dealership and injured party who alleged wheel defect that caused an accident resulting in plaintiff’s blindness; matter involved significant spoliation of evidence issues
- Real Estate & Real Property
- Presided over multiple eminent domain matters involving public works projects
- As an attorney, handled multi-million-dollar landslide litigation involving the Vista Royale development in Anaheim/Orange Hills
- As an attorney, handled multi-million-dollar landslide litigation involving the San Clemente bluffs and damage to multiple single-family homes
- As an attorney, handled multi-million-dollar landslide litigation involving the Newport Coast bluffs
- As an attorney, handled multi-million-dollar land subsidence litigation involving multiple single-family homes in Fullerton
- As an attorney, handled multiple land subsidence cases involving single-family homeowners’ associations and condominium developments
- Presided over writ of mandate delaying the destruction of hotel condemned by city
- Presided over litigation of multiple homeowners’ association cases, including those involving violations of covenants, conditions and restrictions; recreational vehicle limits; home maintenance; and architectural and parking rules
- Presided over cases involving code enforcement and sale of residential property
- Presided over property and boundary line disputes, including fencing and planting
- Presided over view easement litigation
- Presided over prescriptive easement litigation
- Presided over numerous matters relating to seller’s failure to disclose defects in home sale to property buyer
Honors, Memberships, and Professional Activities
Selected Awards and Honors
- Judge of the Year, Orange County Trial Lawyers Association, 2021
- Harmon Scoville Award, Orange County Bar Association, 2020
- Judges Night Award, Japanese American Bar Association, 2019
- Judge of the Year, Constitutional Rights Foundation, Orange County , 2017
- George Francis Civility Award, Orange County Chapter, American Board of Trial Advocates, 2013
- Trailblazer Award, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, 2011
- Mock Trial Judge of the Year, Constitutional Rights Foundation, Orange County, 2010
- Outstanding Service Award, Orange County Asian American Bar Association, 2008
Selected Memberships and Affiliations
- Co-Chair, Joint Rules Subcommittee of Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee, 2019–2021
- Member, Workload Assessment Advisory Committee, Judicial Council, 2019–2021
- Judicial Advisory Board, Association of Business Trial Lawyers, 2012–2021
- Member, California Judges Association, 2001–2021
- Orange/Riverside/San Bernardino Representative, 2015–2017, 2019–2021
- Bencher Editorial Board, 2015–2018
- Civil Law Committee, 2014–2015
- Government Relations Committee, 2011–2013
- Member, TCPJAC/Court Executives Advisory Committee Work Group (for developing courthouse/courtroom COVID-19 protocols), 2020
- Board Member, National Association for Presiding Judges and Court Executive Officers, 2016–2020
- Co-Chair, Membership Committee
- Member, Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee, Judicial Council, 2019–2020
- TCPJC Liaison to the Judicial Council Security Advisory Committee, 2020
- Member, Judicial Appointments Selection Committee, Orange County (for Governor Jerry Brown), 2011–2018
- Member, Grand Jury Selection Committee, Orange County Superior Court, 2001—2021
- Chair, 2016-2018
- Chair, Finance Committee, Orange County Superior Court, 2016–2018
- President, William P. Gray/Lex Legion Inn of Court, 2016–2018
- President, California Asian – Pacific American Judges Association, 2016–2017
- Chair, ADR/Mediation Committee, Orange County Superior Court, 2011–2015
- Member, 2007–2010
- Member, Jury Orientation Committee, Orange County Superior Court, 2003–2013
- Member, Judicial Appointments Selection Committee, Orange County (for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger), 2005–2010
- Chair, Temporary Judge Committee, Orange County Superior Court, 2006–2009
- Member, 2009-2021
- Member, Board of Directors, Orange County Bar Association, 1996–2001
- Chair, Bias Grievance Subcommittee, 1997–2001
- Judiciary Committee, 1997–2000
- Co-Chair, ADR Committee, 1998
- President, Orange County Asian American Bar Association, 1999–2000
- President, Orange County Japanese American Lawyers Association, 1998–1999
- “Trump v. Hawaii: Is Korematsu Really Dead?” 62 Orange County Lawyer 1, Jan. 2020.
- “The Court’s Primary Goal: Increasing Access to Court Services in Orange County,” 61 Orange County Lawyer 10, Oct. 2019.
- “Korematsu v. United States: A Case That Will Live in Infamy,” 60 Orange County Lawyer 1, Jan. 2018.
- “Out of Line: The Non-Divergence of the Going and Coming Rule in Workers’ Compensation and Vicarious Liability Cases After Hartline v. Kaiser Foundation,” 59 Orange County Lawyer 1, Jan. 2017.
- “Spoiling for a Fight: The Tort of Tortious Destruction of Evidence,” 57 C. Lawyer No. 1, Jan. 2015.
- “Approaching the Bench, Judge Kirk H. Nakamura: Be Careful What You Ask For,” 56 C. Lawyer No. 1, Jan. 2014.
- “Dwellings on California Foreclosure Law: The New Homeowner’s Bill of Rights,” 55 C. Lawyer No. 12, Dec. 2013.
- “Proposals for a Brave New (Cash-Strapped) Civil World,” 55 C. Lawyer No. 4, April 2013.
- “Six Happy Jurors,” 54 C. Lawyer No. 11, page 20, Nov. 2012 (reprinted in Los Angeles Daily Journal).
Background and Education
- Orange County Superior Court, 2001–2021
- Complex Civil Litigation Panel, 2021
- Presiding Judge, 2019–2021
- Assistant Presiding Judge, 2016–2018
- Executive Committee, 2009–2011
- Planning Commissioner, City of Yorba Linda, 2000–2001
- Partner/Associate; Beam, DiCaro, et. al., and successor firms; 1985-2001
- Associate, Shield & Smith, 1980–1985
- J.D., Duke University School of Law, 1980
- B.S. Biological Science, University of California, Irvine, 1977
- Chancellor’s Scholar
- "Judge Nakamura’s many years of experience on the complex panel of the Orange County Superior Court provide him the experience to successfully handle any kind of litigation matters. Moreover, his leadership of the OCSC as a presiding judge during the unprecedented 2020 Covid era speaks volumes about his judicial temperament and ability to resolve complex cases and issues."
- Leading Trial Attorney
- “Judge Nakamura has the intellect, patience and perseverance necessary to assist the parties in resolving complex civil cases. He was one of the most effective judges and was always actively engaged and insightful."
- Leading Trial Attorney
- “Judge Nakamura is the best Presiding Judge ever.”
- CA Senator to the Senate Judiciary Committee
- • Judge Nakamura worked hard “even during the many crises he has had to manage this year, to both keep the bar informed and embrace input from the bar’s leaders, to the benefit of all the practicing lawyers. We are grateful for his leadership.”
- Former Orange County Bar Association President
- “Leadership is a challenge and all too often judges are not acknowledged for having to make tough but necessary decisions.”
- Chief Justice on Judge Nakamura’s receipt of the Scoville Award
- “Judge Nakamura has shown extraordinary leadership in navigating the Court to safely reopen, ensuring access to Justice for our Community.”
- Chief Executive Officer at Superior Court of California, County of Orange
- “He never missed a day of work during the court closure due to the pandemic but persisted in his uninterrupted dedication in finding solutions to these unprecedented times.”
- Judge of the Superior Court of Orange County
- “He doesn’t lean either way out there or that you didn’t anticipate. Even if you disagree, he will have a good reason for it.”
- Name Partner at Orange County Law Firm
- “He demonstrates genuine concern and a willingness to work with the attorneys to try cases.”
- Trial Attorney
- "He seemed to me to grasp the arguments and understand them well. It was a pleasure to be in his courtroom.”
- Trial Attorney
- “Judge Nakamura has the intellect, patience and perseverance necessary to assist the parties in resolving complex civil cases. He was one of the most effective judges in the courts, was always actively engaged, and insightful. His heart burns with desire for justice. He is a fantastic addition to the JAMS stable of excellent neutrals.”
- Leading Trial Attorney
- "Judge Nakamura is a good person. He is smart, empathetic, and has a great sense humor. He was an excellent trial judge and did an outstanding job as PJ during very difficult times. He is a great addition to JAMS."
- ADR Professional
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