RANDOLPH M. HAMMOCK
A Multi-Faceted Judge Who Keeps Abreast of the Law, Is a Mentor to Colleagues
By Sherri Okamoto
With Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Randy Hammock, quality and quantity are not either/or options. He has a large quantity of great qualities—and quirks—including a depth of knowledge in subjects ranging from election law to Gilbert & Sullivan quotes, skills from speaking with juries to speaking in sign language, interests from sports to cinema, and talents from test-taking to covering Beatles tunes.
Hammock was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and lived there until he was 12. He has no love lost for the Chesapeake State, though. In 1969, Hammock swears, his father pulled out a map a and determined San Diego, California was the farthest point in continental United States from Baltimore, so that’s where the family went.
“I’m not making this up,” Hammock says with a laugh. “It was like night and day, going from blizzards to palm trees.”
He was the second of three boys with what he calls, “classic middle child syndrome.” Hammock claims his brothers, who both grew up to be engineers, would “gang up” on him, and his parents literally would not hear any ruckus among the boys since they were both deaf.
Hammock’s father worked as a Lithotype operator for the San Diego Union and his mother worked for the government making the punch cards used by early computers to represent data and instructions. Both are now deceased, prompting Hammock to slip in the quote, “I am an orphan boy,” from The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan.
He says he knows all 14 of the comic operettas by the much-loved British duo by heart.
Hammock grew up wanting to become a firm director, and he remains a cinephile to this day, but when he was an undergraduate student at San Diego State University, his German professor suggested that he would be “the perfect lawyer.”
Seen here is Hammock on his first day of school.
For young Hammock, this was an “epiphany.” He says he had never thought about law, but the more he considered it, the more he thought it made sense. For one thing, he relates, lawyers “make a good living” and there was “a clear path” to follow through college, law school and the bar exam, as opposed to the highly unsettled route to the director’s seat at a film studio.
“From that day on,” Hammock says, “I was focused on becoming a lawyer.”
He went straight from undergraduate to law school at San Diego State, and passed the bar exam in 1984.
Initially, Hammock did insurance defense work, then he teamed up with friends and came to Los Angeles to open Chelski, Hammock & Hedges in the mid-Wilshire area. The firm did mostly personal injury work, Hammock says, but whatever came in to the door” was accepted.
In 1996, Hammock joined the Law Offices of Richard M. Lester. The firm almost exclusively handles motorcycle injury cases, and while it is based in Woodland Hills, it serves clients across the nation. Hammock eventually became head of the firm’s litigation department, and he spent 13 years “mostly on the road” to oversee trials. He recounts that he “thought nothing” of flying to Houston and back in a day, but he would normally try to plan his travels so he could “hit three or four cities at a time.”
Hammock says he has filed cases in 54 of California’s 58 counties, and may even have tried cases in all of them. He also has a law license in 14 other states—Indiana, Idaho, Nebraska, Missouri, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Nevada, and Tennessee. Between 1997 and 2014, he was taking a bar exam every February and July, while taking more than 50 cases to jury trial and becoming a member of the member of the American Board of Trial Advocates, which limits its membership to the top 1 percent of trial lawyers in America.
In this photo, Hammock poses for his college graduation photo.
As time wore on, the travel began to wear on him though. “Civil litigation is rough and tumble,” Hammock remarks, and flying was becoming increasingly burdensome, especially after security measures changed drastically in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Judge Pro Tem
Hammock had been participating in the Temporary Assigned Judges Program just for a change of pace, sitting in traffic or small claims court a handful of times per year.
“I didn’t do it with the intent of wanting to be a judge,” he says. “It was just kind of fun and interesting and I liked it.”
But the more he did it, the more he liked it, and “I began to realize this could be a career,” Hammock recalls.
He turned in an application for a judicial appointment when Gray Davis was governor, but his bid never went anywhere because Davis was recalled not long after Hammock applied. Hammock decided to try his luck with running for a vacant seat in 2006.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Hammock admits, and ended up in a race with seven other contestants. Even though he had thought he would do well in the polls, Hammock says he was “trounced,” finishing a distant sixth in a race won by then-Deputy District Attorney David Stuart.
Hammock wryly observes that he took some comfort in the fact he “did not come in dead last,” and Stuart has since become a friend. The election also introduced him to then-Commissioner Alan Friedenthal, now deceased, who also unsuccessfully ran for office.
Friedenthal told him there was an opening for a Dependency Court referee and suggested he apply. Hammock did, although he says he had no idea what the position really was at the time.
“I did it with the mind of getting my foot in the door,” Hammock says, thinking he could go from a part-time per diem referee to a full-time role, to a commissionership and then to judge. After being hired in 2007, Hammock got his full-time assignment in 2008.
Hammock began covering the courtroom for then-Judge Emily Stevens while she was on leave, and spent about a year there before Stevens announced her retirement. This would open up her seat for the 2010 judicial races.
Runs for Judgeship
“I was dead-set against running,” Hammock says, but he decided to give it a go since he had a better understanding of how the electoral process worked, and he had a better ballot designation this time around.
“Of course, seven other people joined me,” he reflects, so he was stuck in a crowded field yet again. Hammock made it to the run-off and then prevailed against civil litigator Mark K. Ameli with 52.5 percent of the vote.
Hammock worked his way through assignments in traffic, small claims, limited jurisdiction and misdemeanor trials before finally landing in a civil courtroom in 2015, where he wanted to be. Even though he had his heart set on a civil assignment though, Hammock says he gave his all in every position to try to be the “best he could be” no matter where he was. He wrote opinions on traffic cases, he can quote expert opinions on DUI issues, and he’s “tried to pass it forward” by sharing his memos, experiences, and knowledge with newer judges.
After being “humbled” in his first election effort, Hammock has also become an expert in judicial races in his own right. “I could tell you off the top of my head who ran in each election for last 20 years,” he says. “I give a lot of advice to colleagues if they’re being challenged or up for reelection,” Hammock says. He’s also taught a judicial education seminar on elections for years.
He claims he is a “good prognosticator” when it comes to predicting winners for the judicial races, and that his predictions have been close to 100 percent accurate in the most recent election cycles.
Hammock says he is gratified when prospective candidates ask him for help, and his general advice is “good luck” and “don’t give up.”
From what he has seen, deputy district attorneys are “winning at a good clip,” but two deputy public defenders have finally prevailed in elections. Hammock says that hasn’t happened since the unification of the court system over two decades ago. Ballot designations, endorsements from the Los Angeles Times and MetNews, and the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s rating are also key, Hammock says. He adds that he is “glad to see money has become less important,” as people are winning contested elections with a budget under $25,000.
Hammock was a vocal proponent in 2017 of Senate Bill 235 which stemmed from a MetNews editorial and a model bill drafted by Jo-Ann Grace that was sponsored by the Conference of California Bar Associations. The bill, enacted into law, amends Elections Code §13107, principally to bar dramatized, emotion-evoking ballot designations in judicial races. He has also authored biannual articles for years, discussing candidates’ compliance with the law’s requirements.
“If I see something flagrant I try to make a point about it,” Hammock says. “Judges have a duty to make sure judicial elections are handled appropriately and we should play an active role in endorsing people and making people of what the law is and ethics of it.” After all, he posits, “Who is in a better position than judges to see what we need, and the kinds of characteristics for the bench?”
As a judge, Hammock says he takes pride in the fact he “writes a lot,” and doesn’t “just cut and paste from what the research attorney says.” That’s not to disparage research attorneys, he hastens to add, noting that his son has been a research attorney for the court since 2017. Hammock says he considers what the parties present and adds his own thoughts and observations, explaining that he likes to include cultural references when he can—anything from songs to Shakespeare. “I try to make it witty,” Hammock says. “I don’t know if I always success but I amuse myself, at least.”
At the same time, Hammock avoids excessive verbiage. He says he tells prospective bar examinees and lawyers the same thing when it comes to writing: “Keep it simple.” With the volume of written material Hammock has to wade through each day, he says that a concise two-page document is greatly preferred to a “rambling 10-page stream-of-consciousness thing.” In fact, on the bar exams, Hammock relates, he stuck to a rule of resisting the urge to write for the first half of the time allotted for every essay question, so he could organize his thoughts and get a “clean essay.” He says he assumes that he, like the bar exam graders, prefer when an author will “cut to the chase, tell me the points, as in bullet points, almost.” After all, he says, “motions come down to certain facts or principles of law,” and “if the law and facts are on your side, you’re going to win with me.”
Reads Day’s Opinions
Even though there’s no shortage of reading material for a judge, Hammock reads all of the published civil appellate decision, as well all of the unpublished decisions of the Court of Appeal for this district, on a daily basis. He recalls getting into the habit of reading the appellate decisions each day when he became a referee because “I didn’t know anything at the time.” Hammock says this helps him understand what appellate justice are “looking at, “commenting: “I may not aways agree with them but I’m certainly in no position to argue with them about it.”
That’s not all Hammock spends his spare time reading; he also enjoys a good novel and biographies. Hammock and his wife are big fans of cruises, and he says he’ll usually make it through three to four books per cruise.
Hammock is also an avid golfer and says his game is “above-average.” He’s a gold life master at bridge, having competed in national and international tournaments since his college days. Hammock spends time at small, local theaters when he can, and he is particularly enamored with the places that play silent movies with a live organist to accompany the show.
A teenage Hammock is pictured standing outside his home.
The judge enjoys music as well, and he is a member of a Beatles sing-along group. They meet weekly and sing selections from their own official songbook, and it is a serious matter. Many of the member are talented musicians, and Hammock avers, “the Beatles would be proud to hear us sing their songs.”
Is there an area where Hammock admits he could use some improvement? He says he’s always trying to work on his judicial demeanor and learning to maintain the mien of calm impartiality.
Harking to his days as a San Diegan, he roots for the San Diego Padres and the former San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers.
Hammock has been “a valuable mentor,” who “always picks up the phone, and is always interested in not just telling you what he thinks the correct ruling or answer is, but why,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joel Lofton says. “He’s a tremendous asset to the court because whether he is right or wrong, his debate, his interest in the law, it creates a great environment and dynamic for thoughtful discussions.”
Judge Daniel Murphy agrees that “we are very fortunate to have Randy on the Superior Court.”
Murphy declares that Hammock “has a wealth of knowledge and experience,” and is “always willing to provide advice and guidance to his fellow judicial officers. “ Hammock is the “go-to person” for questions about judicial elections, and his judicial education presentations “are always informative and entertaining,” the judge remarks.
Murphy says he’s also told that Hammock is “one of the best golfers on the court,” although Judge Timothy Martella, one of Hammock’s regular golfing partners, says “his one fault is that he’s very stubborn on changing his golf swing.”
Martella says Hammock is “the guy I call whenever I have any kind of civil question,” and he “always gives good advice.”
Martella’s wife, retired Judge Patricia D. Nieto, says Hammock had been her mentor when she had a civil assignment, and that he is “one of the most well-versed judges in civil law.”
Hammock is “incredible in terms of his knowledge of the law” generally, Nieto comments, though civil law is “his forte.”
‘Everyone Knows Randy’
The former judge adds that Hammock has “such a huge personality,” that “I would venture to say everyone knows Randy.” And anyone Hammock has met, she notes, he probably remembers, because he seems to have a photographic memory.
“I always thought that kind of thing was a myth,” Nieto says, but “my husband and I have tested him several times,” and there’s nothing Hammock hasn’t been able to recall. “You can ask him who was in the Superbowl in what year, and who won, and he’ll know.”
Hammock is also a “great singer and dancer,” and “very entertaining” company, she mentions.
Hammock poses in his Farrell’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlour uniform.
Judge Yvette Verastegui, the assistant supervising judge of the Criminal Division, says that “Randy Hammock is a force of nature on all levels.”
She relates that when they were assigned to the same courthouse, “I never once saw him not have a good day, never once saw him without a smile on his face.”
While Hammock is “so well-regarded in the civil world,” Verastegui says, people may not know he was also “an exceptional criminal judge” when he had a criminal courtroom assignment.
Despite having never practiced criminal law as an attorney, Verastegui says, Hammock “absolutely mastered it” as a judge. Verastegui posits that he is “well-suited for it because of his engaging personality,” and his “exceptional” work-ethic.
“When we lost him to civil, it was a sad day,” Verastegui says. ”He was so generous with his time and his knowledge, sharing it with others, I am just honored to know him and be his friend.”
Attorney Angela A. Zanin of Lewis Brisbois, president of the Italian American Lawyers Association, says Hammock “has always been a great guide to anyone who wants to run for judge.” He also runs the judge pro tem program, which she participates in, and “we really appreciate his effort,” because he makes “a real contribution” to its success.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Murphy offers these thoughts:
“Judge Hammock conducts court proceedings with intelligence and charm. He knows what is important and what to let go. He attends bar association events throughout the year, where he is convivial and engaging with the lawyers. He enjoys the respect of the bar.
“But that is just the beginning. Judge Hammock knows virtually all of his more than 500 colleagues, and I’m not sure any other judge can say that. He has been urged to run for [assistant presiding judge/presiding judge] time and time again, but he would rather be a working trial court judge. Behind the scenes, he has quietly mediated problematic issues on the court. He is able to do this because he enjoys the respect of his colleagues and “court management.” Most judges do not know all Judge Hammock has done to help his colleagues, as he is satisfied helping others and expects nothing in return.
No one in memory has done more for esprit de corps on the court than Judge Randy Hammock. He is the Court Zoom master, a moniker he earned during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he conducted noon Zoom meetings for the downtown civil judges using his personal Zoom account. A dedicated core group of civil judges attended Judge Hammock’s twice to three times weekly Zoom meetings. The meetings kept us together during an isolated time. We shared personal information such as what we were watching (binging) on Netflix, what we were doing in court and what we were hearing from the bar. Judges exchanged up-to-the-minute information about what they were seeing in their courtrooms during the pandemic and discussed options and ideas for conducting judicial business in novel times.”
“It was a high octane Best Practices on how to conduct judicial business during a worldwide pandemic. I know of no comparable forum or virtual meetings in the California judiciary during the pandemic. In my view, Judge Hammock did more for the well-being of his colleagues and for the administration of justice during the pandemic than any other judge in the State of California.
“Judge Hammock is the best of the best. He is everything a judge should be. We are fortunate that Judge Hammock is on the court during these challenging times. He makes us all better and makes the Court a better place for us all.”
Copyright 2024, Metropolitan News Company