Winter 2014 • Issue 50, page 1

Shakespeare on the Bench - Judge Derek Hunt

By Mosier, Robert*

Ask Superior Court Judge Derek Hunt what his passion is, and he will tell you it is Shakespeare! He has read every play, he has personally performed many of the roles in the plays, and he is conversant with most of the lines. Ask him what his favorite Shakespeare quote is, and Judge Hunt will tell you the following:

BASSANIO: . . . "I beseech you, west once the law to your authority.
To do a great right, do a little wrong.”

PORTIA: "It must not be. . . .'Twill be recorded as a precedent, and many an error, by the same example, will rush into the state."

Judge Hunt has been a Superior Court Judge for the past seventeen years. He was appointed by then Governor Pete Wilson. Judge Hunt’s background prior to becoming a judge was complex civil litigation. While at Troy Gould in Los Angeles, he practiced law with Tom Coleman who is a prominent receiver in Southern California and who continues to admire his former law partner. Tom states that Judge Hunt is one of the brightest lawyers and judges that he has known in his career. This is not an isolated comment about Judge Hunt. Many lawyers who appear in his courtroom echo the same sentiment.

Where did Judge Hunt gain this great insight? He was born in Washington DC but spent his early years in Contra Costa County. However, his family returned to Washington DC for his teenage years and that lead him to Cornell University where he earned his undergraduate degree in political philosophy. Following that, he earned his law degree from Cornell where he was a member of the Cornell Law Review. Ask Judge Hunt what is the most important ingredient to be a good lawyer or a good judge, and he states: “A good education is essential.”

Who has been the most influential person in Judge Hunt’s career as a lawyer and a judge? Justice Macklin Fleming of the 2d District Court of Appeal. Judge Hunt states that Justice Fleming had a first rate intellect, a first rate temperament, and was a very wise man. Justice Fleming set a standard that Judge Hunt continues to hold in high esteem and emulate today.

What advice does Judge Hunt have for a graduating law school student who is interested in complex civil litigation and possibly becoming a judge? Judge Hunt believes that the best training is at the enforcement division of the Securities and Exchange Commission in New York or the Department of Justice in Washington. This experience will provide insight into the intricacies of complex litigation at its best.

What motivates a lawyer to become a judge? According to Judge Hunt, it is not the money. It is the culmination of a life’s work in the legal business. It allows one to knit together all of the elements of a life well led including experience, education, relationships, service of justice and citizenship. Judge Hunt went on to say that justice is not a commodity, and it is not inventory; it is a virtue. As highest of the classical virtues, justice is the most unattainable. As a judge, he observes that he is not in the justice business; he is in the law business. Getting the law right is the most for which we can reasonably hope.

What impact will the State’s budget crisis have on the law and justice in California? Judge Hunt observes that it is already having a negative impact by slowing down the process, operating without bailiffs in some cases, and without court reporters in others. He forecast that judges will become like school teachers and have to purchase their own supplies. Judge Hunt is skeptical that electronic transcriptions can replace the record provided by a court reporter – someone is going to have to transcribe the hearing in order to select the important passages for the review court to consider. Bottom line, the price of litigation is likely to increase as more and more of the costs are borne by the litigants versus the subsidy of the general taxpayers.

What about the appointment of receivers? Judge Hunt has been a good friend of, and active participant with, the California Receivers Forum, having lectured in all five of the two and three day educational seminars co-sponsored by Loyola Law School and the California Receivers Forum since 2000. Judge Hunt has not appointed many rents and profits receivers and sees these assignments as more routine. By contrast, he considers the complexities faced by equity receivers to be the more challenging task requiring broad experience and resourcefulness. Important ingredients for a receiver in Judge Hunt’s courtroom are experience and integrity – does the Receiver know what he or she is doing and have the presence and experience to carry off the pending assignment? Does the receiver understand that he or she is a neutral and not there to do the plaintiff’s bidding? Can the receiver operate with the respect and support of both sides of the lawsuit? Timidity is generally not a useful quality for receivers in his courtroom. Judge Hunt believes that good receivers will return to court and seek instruction when an issue material to the outcome of the case is mired in controversy with the plaintiff demanding to go one direction and the defendant demanding another. In complex cases, he believes that layman receivers should be well represented by counsel. This is not a requirement in more routine or simple matters. To tie in the orientation of Shakespeare to the appointment process, the key question in Judge Hunt’s courtroom is: To be or not to be – that is the question. Judge Hunt notes that judges generally perceive the appointment as an extreme remedy to be exercised only when other remedies have failed.

On the personal side, Judge Hunt has been married to Amy for 33 years. They have two adult sons one of whom has earned his PhD in molecular biology from Princeton (a chip off the old …., no doubt). Judge Hunt served as an officer in the United States Army during the Vietnam conflict, and perceives this experience as valuable. His fascination with Shakespeare is not a passive interest. For the past several years, he has organized a judge-studded cast to reenact several of Shakespeare’s plays with photographic evidence to prove it. This is an annual summer event for many of Orange County’s Superior Court judges. Judge Hunt proudly presents pictures of these events, one of which included Judge Michael Brenner playing a statue, Presiding Judge Tom Borris as the stabbed Caesar, along with several other members of the local Superior Court acting out their respective roles.

Judge Hunt’s second passion is his blog site at Here, one can find an impressive inventory of book reviews prepared and posted by Judge Hunt underscoring his keen literary skills. He particularly likes classic literature, academic histories and philosophy – there is not much modernity on his reading list.

An hour and a half interview with Judge Hunt is a stimulating and unusual experience. The author found a Shakespeare quote that seemed to sum up Judge Hunt: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” So far, Judge Hunt appears to have achieved two out of Shakespeare’s three options.

* Robert P. Mosier is a federal equity receiver and was the Conference Chair for the September 2013 NAFER conference. He is also a Southern California receiver and trustee and principal of Mosier & Company, Inc., a firm that has specialized in managing and turning around troubled companies for more than 25 years.