After a long and prestigious career, Presiding Justice James A. Ardaiz is retiring from the active practice of law and from WTJ, the firm where he spent his final years as a highly successful litigator, mediator and arbitrator. Prior to returning to the courtroom as a litigator, he retired from a longstanding career in public service as Chief Deputy District Attorney in charge of Homicide prosecution in the District Attorney’s Office, a trial judge and ultimately as Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal where he served as one of only six Administrative Presiding Justices governing the state appellate courts. During his tenure as an appellate jurist, he helped craft several monumental, impactful and highly regarded decisions. Mr. Ardaiz returned to private practice with a zeal and intellectual tenacity that thrust him into the upper ranks of trial attorneys who handle significant, complex cases, achieving several of the largest verdicts in the Central Valley of California. WTJ was extremely fortunate and honored to have had such an experienced, distinguished attorney as part of the team.
During his decorated, 30-year career as a judge, Justice Ardaiz served at every level of the state judiciary, including as Pro Tempore Justice of the Supreme Court on multiple occasions. Early on in his career, he was one of the youngest lawyers in the State of California to achieve the designation of Chief Deputy District Attorney in charge of homicide cases. Elected to the Municipal Court in 1980 at the age of 32, he served as a trial judge with two terms as Presiding Judge. In 1985, he was appointed by Governor Deukmejian as a Superior Court Judge, where he served as a general trial judge with one term as Criminal Presiding Judge. Then, in 1989, he was nominated by Gov. Deukmejian to the Fifth District Court of Appeal. In 1994, by the nomination of Gov. Pete Wilson, he became Administrative Presiding Justice of the Fifth District Court of Appeal. During his tenure, he authored more than 2,000 appellate opinions and participated in over 6,000 cases. Justice Ardaiz served on the California Judicial Council, including a term as Chair of the Executive Committee of the Judicial Council replacing Ronald George upon his appointment as Chief Justice. He was selected as California Jurist of the Year for his successful negotiation with over 120 unions of legislation to create a new personnel system for the trial court employees of California which Chief Justice George proclaimed as “a monumental achievement” necessary to securing a system of trial court funding for the 58 counties of the State judicial system.
Private Practice & Continued Service
Justice Ardaiz retired from the judiciary in 2010 and re-entered private practice as an arbitrator/mediator, ultimately acting in the role of general counsel to a major California-based developer and farmer, in addition to continuing to build his dispute resolution practice. In 2015, he advised on a matter for that client on an appeal from a $78 million verdict. The appeal on which he advised resulted in a complete reversal for the client. He acted as co-counsel of Sweetwater Unified School District v Gilbane before the California Supreme Court resulting in successful resolution on behalf of his client, Sweetwater and as consultant on Bolger v Amazon resulting in application of product liability against Amazon. In 2016, he reentered the courtroom as a trial lawyer and, with his co-counsel, obtained a $25 million bad faith title insurance judgment (Top 100 Verdicts in America, 2016). In 2017, he went on to litigate an eminent domain matter for a client wherein he obtained a settlement with the State of California resulting in an aggregate award worth $59 million, including a $40 million monetary settlement and $19 million valued property resolution. In short, his “retirement” from the bench led to an extremely successful civil practice wherein he participated successfully in litigating several high dollar matters for some prestigious California clients.
Justice Ardaiz went on to join WTJ in 2019, bringing decades of experience in a variety of areas including business, personal injury, governmental policy, dispute resolution and land/water use matters. In 2021, he book-ended his career by co-trying two major cases to verdict successfully alongside WTJ Partner Marshall Whitney and another of his former law partners. His final trial resulted in a jury verdict of $88,800,000.
Over the years, Justice Ardaiz also dedicated his time to education, serving as a frequent instructor at the California State Judicial College at Berkeley, CA, teaching judges on the subjects of trial practice, judicial decision making, evidence, and administration. He also served as a lecturer at the national level in judicial administration and evidence, as well as acted as a consultant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation with respect to DNA evidence. In addition to his judicial and legal accomplishments, Justice Ardaiz found time over the years to become a published author in the field of law, non-fiction, and fiction, authoring one work of non-fiction, and three works of fiction as well as co-authoring a text on California evidence. He has also drafted numerous articles on legal policy and legal humor, acted as a frequent speaker on judicial policy, and in his remaining free time paints for leisure and spends time with his adult children and grandchildren.
A Lifetime of Service
As Justice Ardaiz steps away from WTJ, he is excited to spend more time with his family, his wife of 51 years, Pamella , his three children and five grandchildren. On top of all of his accomplishments and recognitions, he is also a trained oil and watercolor artist who creates portraits and still-life artwork in his free time. He is looking forward to the opportunity to spend more time on his art and continue writing. WTJ is honored to recognize Justice Ardaiz for his incredible career and wish him the very best in his retirement.