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Judge, 87, Lauded for His 40 Years on the Bench

Times Staff Writer

George Francis, a man who can tell you what it was like to live through the San Francisco earthquake, was honored by Orange County lawyers Wednesday for outstanding service.

Francis, at 87 one of the state’s oldest sitting trial judges, was given the Franklin G. West Award at the Orange County Bar Assn.'s annual meeting at the Meridien Hotel in Newport Beach.

A slightly built man with thinning white hair, Francis is known for his pleasing wit and an uncanny ability to bring contending parties together. Aware that delicate negotiations can be upset by the slightest jolt, he had a telephone installed in the bathroom of his chambers in the courthouse in Santa Ana to allow lawyers to consult with clients, while still keeping them close at hand.

He was called a “genius” at settlements by one California chief justice.

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Francis has amassed a formidable record as the man responsible for trying to induce litigants into burying the hatchet before trial. By his own estimate, he has presided over more than 6,000 settlements, saving more than 30,000 days of court time.

His accomplishments are appreciated by Superior Court judges, who must try the cases that Francis cannot settle. “He keeps our head above water,” said Phillip E. Cox, presiding judge of the Orange County Superior Court. “He’s worth his weight in gold.”

Francis thrives on the freewheeling give and take of settlement conferences, where both sides state what they want out of the litigation.

“It’s a strange thing, but money-wise, some of the big cases are easier to bring about settlement in than some of the little cases. I had a Dalkon shield case several years ago. The plaintiff’s lawyer demanded $1.5 million. The offer was $1 million,” Francis recalled.

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“I said, ‘Why don’t you settle it for $1,250,000?’ They conferred and they did. It didn’t take 5 minutes. On the other hand, somebody who is arguing about a couple hundred dollars can do it all day.”

He has served on the bench for 40 years, starting in Alpine County in 1948, moving to Long Beach in 1951, and finally Orange County in 1977. Francis is retired but has been assigned to the court by order of the state Judicial Council.

The West award, named for an early county jurist, recognizes distinguished service and continuing commitment to improving the administration of justice. At the bar dinner, new officers were also installed, including Michael H. Gazin, president; Jennifer J. King, president-elect; Andrew J. Guilford, treasurer, and Thomas R. Malcolm, secretary.

In presenting the award, the bar cited Francis as “a revered and treasured member of the Orange County Superior Court. He has won the minds and hearts of all of us because he is a fine example of every virtue one can expect in a judge.”

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His longtime clerk, Natalie Fuller, put it more succinctly: “He’s got the greatest sense of humor. He’s just adorable.”

Francis enjoys telling about the first time he saw Halley’s comet, in 1910 when he was a boy in San Francisco.

Asked what he thought the second time around, when the heavenly vision reappeared 3 years ago, Francis responded:

“I didn’t see it. It gets a little boring every 75 years, the same old comet.”

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Asked whether maybe his deteriorating eyesight might be the culprit, Francis shot back:

“No. It’s because the darn comet is deteriorating. It’s a lot less visible than it was in 1910.”


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