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Judge in California marriage case a Catholic Republican

Judge in California marriage case a Catholic Republican

Supporters of same-sex marriage found an ally in San Francisco judge Richard Kramer--a Catholic Republican appointed to the bench by a former GOP governor. "We're certainly feeling the judge's decision is right," said San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, whose city's lawsuit prompted Kramer's ruling Monday that same-sex couples have the right to marry in California, despite a law and a voter-approved measure declaring marriage to be the exclusive realm of heterosexuals. Opponents of gay marriage immediately declared that 57-year-old Kramer is a judicial activist whose decision was "ludicrous" and "nonsense." "We knew Judge Kramer was under tremendous political pressure to redefine marriage, but we were hopeful he would recognize the limited role of the judiciary," said Robert Tyler, an Alliance Defense Fund attorney trying to uphold California's traditional marriage laws. "We do not believe it is appropriate for judges in this setting to overturn the will of the people." With a 27-page stroke of the pen, Kramer did just that. "The parade of horrible social ills envisioned by the opponents of same-sex marriage is not a necessary result from recognizing that there is a fundamental right to choose who one wants to marry," he wrote in the decision, which won't be enforced for 60 days, to give opponents time to appeal. Lawyers who have practiced before Kramer said the 1972 graduate of the University of Southern California Law Center is among the top judges in San Francisco and is unswayed by public opinion. "I think he does what he thinks is right," said Robert Stumpf Jr., who settled a class-action suit for $6.7 million before Kramer last year while representing Wells Fargo. The bank was accused of illegally selling customers' financial information. Stumpf said Kramer steered negotiations between the bank and plaintiffs' attorneys for a year. "His proposal was legally sound and practical," he said. Former California Republican governor Pete Wilson appointed Kramer in December 1996, when Kramer was specializing in bank litigation. Kramer had made a name for himself in the legal world in 1992, when he successfully defended Bank of America in a class-action lawsuit in which the bank was accused of illegally freezing credit-card interest rates around 20% between 1982 and 1986. First Interstate and Wells Fargo, also plaintiffs in that case, had settled for a combined $55 million, but Kramer the lawyer took the case to trial and prevailed. Nancy Hersh, a San Francisco-based class-action lawyer, said Kramer "listens carefully to both sides. His reasoning is excellent, and he has great attention to detail. He's not irrational or unreasonable," added Hersh, whose plaintiffs sued Imperial Premium Finance. The Sherman Oaks, Calif., insurer agreed to provide 30,000 customers with $35 coupons to be used to pay their premiums after Kramer ruled the company was illegally holding on to customer refunds. Kramer declined to be interviewed for this story. But he gave a sense of how dedicated he is as a jurist in a 1999 interview with the San Francisco Daily Journal, a legal trade publication. While he said he sought out a judgeship so that he could spend more time with his wife and daughter, he said he spent his first months as a criminal court judge reading the Penal Code cover to cover and driving through crime-ridden neighborhoods in San Francisco to get a sense of what was happening in the community. "It's all fascinating to me," he told the Daily Journal. "What you have to do is figure out what the person did and what to do about it. And most of these cases require common sense and humanity." (AP)

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