Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday. March 19, 2007


Page 1


Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Civil Litigator Named to Superior Court


By TINA BAY, Staff Writer


 Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday named Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elena J. Duarte and Samantha P. Jessner and civil litigator James A. Steele to the Los Angeles Superior Court bench.

Duarte, who succeeds the late Judge Richard Van Dusen, told the MetNews she expects to take the bench sometime in the next three to four weeks.  Steele said he anticipates being sworn in within the next 10 days to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of now-U.S. District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank.

Jessner, who could not be reached for comment, succeeds retired Judge Chris Conway.

Duarte is currently chief of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section of the U.S. Attorney Office’s in Los Angeles, which she joined in 1994. Before taking on her present role in May 2005, she served as deputy chief of the section and also handled cases involving narcotics and violent crimes, white collar crimes, computer crimes, and major frauds.

Duarte Notes Diversity

The 40-year old lawyer, whose father is from Mexico, noted that Schwarzenegger “has shown a continuing commitment to promote a qualified and diverse bench” and that she was “proud to be a part of that ongoing objective.”

But she added:

“I see [my ethnicity] as just one thing about me, and I think that I’d like to have my qualifications on paper speak for the job that I’m going to do.”

Prior to joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Duarte spent two years practicing in Washington, D.C. as a trial attorney criminal division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Since being admitted to the State Bar in 1993, she has completed over 60 criminal trials, including approximately 45 jury trials, and authoring over 50 appeal briefs. 

“I’ve been a litigator and a prosecutor, and I think I’m really looking forward to actually being on the deciding end of the process and overseeing the litigation instead of seeing the one side of it that I generally do,” the lawyer said.

Steele ‘Extraordinarily Excited’

In addition to practicing, Duarte has lectured regularly at the Stanford School of Law, where she received her degree in 1992 after earning a bachelor’s degree from USC.  She has also taught at Southwestern Law School on various topics including evidence, trial advocacy, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Steele, 54, said moving to the bench after being a civil practitioner for 29 years would be a “dramatic change,” but one that he “seriously considered” for nearly 10 years before submitting his application to the Governor’s Office last year.

“I’m extraordinarily excited,” he remarked. “I’m looking forward to the challenge and excitement of continuing in the law although in a different direction.  I’m also looking forward to the intellectual stimulation of handling areas of the law I haven’t been handling.”

Steele’s practice has focused on business litigation in the construction industry.  After his admission to the State Bar in 1977, he worked as in-house counsel for Federated Department Stores and moved on to various other in-house positions for companies engaged in construction contracting, real estate development, banking and heavy construction equipment manufacturing.

In 1989, he established the Woodland Hills firm of Steele & Persoff, where he is presently winding down his law practice. His clients there have included real property developers, hotel and resort operators, retailers and manufacturers.

Steele has taught an extension course on the law of construction projects and contracts in UCLA’s Department  of Engineering for 18 years, and says he plans to continue teaching after assuming his judicial duties.

In addition to a degree from California Western School of Law in San Diego, he holds a masters’ degree in business from USC and a graduate degree in taxation from the University of San Diego Law School. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of San Diego.

Steele said he was “obviously humbled and appreciative” for his appointment and noted he had a number of role models in the superior court whom he will seek to emulate.

Jessner, 41, presently serves as director of the high intensity financial crimes task force at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. She joined the office in 1994, leaving in 2000 to work for one year as litigation counsel for The Boeing Company, and then another year as an assistant inspector general for the Office of the Inspector General, before returning to the office in 2002.

She earned her law degree from UC Berkeley and her undergraduate degree from Stanford University. 

Jessner and Duarte are Democrats.  Steele is a Republican.

The annual compensation for each of the judicial positions is $171,648.   


Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company