Winter 2018 • Issue 62, page 1

Philip Gutierrez: United States District Court Judge, Los Angeles, "You Are Only As Good As Your Worst Day"

By *

Philip Gutierrez was the youngest of four children raised by a single mother in a home in East Los Angeles. Due to great Catholic schools, an introduction to a tennis pro at an early age, and a recommendation to attend University of Notre Dame rather than Yale or Stanford, Judge Gutierrez not only survived the East LA neighborhood, he has achieved success beyond his own imagination.

Consistent with his humble beginnings, Judge Gutierrez admits to being a bit of a hellion at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Grammar School at the start. However, seeing a diamond in the rough, one of his teachers, Hilary McGuire, saw potential in this young Latino and decided to introduce Philip to Gussy Moran, a nationally ranked tennis player who was a tennis pro at the LA Tennis Club in Hancock Park. Gussy took a liking to young Philip and often treated him to lunch after a tennis lesson, introducing this future federal judge to an entirely new world. Gussy also shared an important life-lesson: You are only as good as your worst day. This tennis experience proved to be a turning point for Judge Gutierrez as he would go on to play varsity tennis all four years in high school where he became the captain of the tennis team and was all-league for two of his years on the team.

As our future Judge completed his Catholic high school and prepared for college, he received acceptance letters from Yale, Stanford and Notre Dame. What choices! His ultimate selection, Notre Dame, was heavily influenced by James K. Moran, one of Philip’s teachers at Cantwell High School who had graduated from Notre Dame. The basis for the decision 
was best described in Notre Dame magazine that 
published a story on the unusual relationship between Judge Gutierrez and James K. Moran in the fall of 2007. As quoted in the article, Judge Gutierrez said: “What most impressed me was that he (Moran) became so close to the people there. I wanted to have that experience. That is why I went to Notre Dame.” When asked in this interview if he ever questioned this decision not to go to Yale or Stanford as he progressed through his career, Judge Gutierrez strongly responded: absolutely not. Notre Dame provided him with an exceptional education and lifelong friends, one of whom he stayed with recently in Chicago (Charlie Hamlin) during the Notre Dame vs. USC football game in South Bend (see photo). Publisher’s Note: It was a long way from East LA to Notre Dame for a young Latino in the late 1970s; Judge Gutierrez knew of only three other Latinos at the University at that time.

Not surprisingly, Jim Moran has proven to be the most influential man in the life of Judge Gutierrez. The most influential woman: Judge Gutierrez’s mother, Connie, who has achieved “angel” status because she could get him to do anything and convince the Judge it was his idea.

College at Notre Dame caused a reset. An original strategy to study math and science quickly gave way to a major in English that Judge Gutierrez found much more suitable. During his four years at Notre Dame, he spent his sophomore year abroad in Maynooth, Ireland. Judge Gutierrez identifies this international experience and the related studies as the more formidable part of his college education. He remains in touch with one of the families he stayed with during his year abroad. Another key decision made in college was where to ultimately live. A particularly cold and snowy softball game he played while at Green Field on the Notre Dame campus convinced Judge Gutierrez that a return home to California for the next phase of life was in order.

What to do next? Law school seemed the logical choice, so he returned to Southern California and law school at UCLA. While in law school, he was an extern for Federal Judge David Williams, the first African-American Judge west of the Mississippi. Judge Gutierrez speaks fondly of Judge Williams, remembering that Judge Williams had a good understanding of where and how Judge Gutierrez grew up. Judge Williams was the first to express confidence in Judge Gutierrez’s legal work – Judge Gutierrez credits this input as critical in his decision to remain working in the law. The Judge notes that Judge Williams was also a good person and a gentleman – qualities that were evident in Judge Gutierrez during this interview and related interchanges.

After law school, and upon becoming a real lawyer, it was time to practice law. Judge Gutierrez picked up experience as a trial lawyer, and he found himself managing a firm in Orange County, which he enjoyed despite a very long commute. He recalls being called in to clean up messes that others had created and, although it was hard work, he had a knack for it.

Judge Gutierrez started his career as a judge at age 37 on the bottom rung of the ladder as a Municipal Judge in 1997 and was later elevated to a California Superior Court Judge. While on the bench in Pomona, a colleague was invited to apply for the Federal Bench but was not interested. The opening was introduced to Philip and the rest is history. Judge Gutierrez was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2006 and confirmed by the Senate in 2007.

Judge Gutierrez’s advice for lawyers: Get an early start in the courtroom. The most important people in the courtroom are the clerks – the clerks wield all the power in the courtroom so be nice to them. Also, be prepared and know the facts.

Judge Gutierrez most memorable case involved Televisa vs Univision. It was his longest trial, but ultimately settled. It was a case of personalities and politics and one that made him appreciate the personal dynamics and relationships that lay just beneath the surface in contentious cases. His most memorable Receivership: Private Equity Management Group, a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme where six large banks in Taipei were the victims. The seven-year case ended with a thirty percent distribution to the victims plus the transfer of a portfolio of life insurance policies that have the potential of producing another $150 to $250 million net over time. This case involved assets on three continents and six countries. Although he has had a few other receivership cases, none have rivaled the PEMG case in size or complexity.

Judge Gutierrez recently participated on the Judges’ Panel at the annual conference for the National Association of Federal Equity Receivers. He spoke knowledgably and authoritatively about receiverships, although based on his experience, he perceives that most federal judges have generally handled only a few receivership cases during their careers as a judge. He has learned a few things along the way, however, and his participation in a receivership conference has caused him to think more deeply about the administration of a receivership case. Judge Gutierrez does not engage in ex parte communications with his receivers and will only hear an ex parte matter on written papers and in court. He prefers instead to review noticed pleadings and make decisions in open court with all parties present. While he has handled less than a dozen receiverships, he likes to know the exit strategy or the “end-game” early on in the case.

Judge Gutierrez has two adult children, one still attending the University of California at Riverside. He confesses to being a Dodger fan in addition to an alum of the Proud Fighting Irish, but he also proudly displays a Gussy Moran tennis racket and signed tennis ball. What advice does the Judge have for a young Latino growing up in East LA: Dream big! You can accomplish things that your mind cannot imagine.