Judge James Arguelles – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California

The Eastern District of California is one of the most heavily overworked courts in the country.  The Court has not been expanded in decades, even as caseloads explode, and has relied heavily on senior judges to carry the burden.  As such, judges on the court are expected to take senior status immediately upon eligibility to bring in reinforcements.  The court currently has two such vacancies, with commercial lawyer Dirk Paloutzian nominated to one seat, and Sacramento Superior Court Judge James Arguelles nominated for the other.

Background

The 54-year-old Arguelles has a long history with the military, having received his B.Sc. from the United States Naval Academy and a Master of Strategic Studies from the United States Army War College before he received a J.D. in 1996 from Harvard Law School.  He then clerked for Judge Marilyn Huff on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California for a year, before joining Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher as an Associate.[1]

In 2000, Arguelles became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California.[2]  In 2005, Arguelles joined Stevens, O’Connell & Jacobs as a Partner.  He held that post until he was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to be a Superior Court judge in 2010.[3]

History of the Seat

Arguelles has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, to a seat vacated on February 2, 2020 by Judge Lawrence O’Neill.  Arguelles’s nomination was announced on June 8, 2020, although he was not officially nominated until June 18, 2020.

Legal Experience

Arguelles started his legal career at the firm of Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher, before spending five years as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California.  As a prosecutor, Arguelles worked on a variety of criminal matters, with a focus on white collar and fraud cases.  For example, Arguelles prosecuted Wayne Anderson and Richard Marks for money laundering as part of their firm Anderson Ark & Associates.[4]  Arguelles also prosecuted Sacramento Water District Manager Dewight Kramer on charges of defrauding the U.S. government through, among other activities, destroying county water records.[5]

From 2005 to 2010, Arguelles was a Partner at Stevens, O’Connell & Jacobs.  Among the more notable cases he has handled with the firm, Arguelles represented Whirlpool Corporation in defending against a class action suit alleging excessive heat and damage from the self-cleaning system in Whirlpool Appliances.[6]  Arguelles was able to successfully have the suit dismissed for failure to state a claim.[7]

Jurisprudence

Since 2010, Arguelles has served as a judge on the Sacramento Superior Court.  In this role, he presides over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters.  In his time on the bench, Arguelles has handled a number of high profile cases.  For example, Arguelles ordered the life sentence of Zavion Johnson set aside after new evidence cast doubt on the testimony from Johnson’s initial trial showing that his baby daughter died from “shaken baby” syndrome.[9] 

More recently, Arguelles oversaw the pretrial release hearing of Raymond John Garcia, who was arrested for “looting” in the aftermath of Black Lives Matter protests in the Sacramento area.[10]  The D.A. opposed Garcia’s release, arguing that Garcia represented a threat as he was on parole from an attempted murder conviction.[11]  However, Arguelles granted the pretrial release, noting the many letters of community support offered for Garcia.[12]

Overall Assessment

As a Republican judge in an increasingly Democratic state, Arguelles’ career advancement largely depends upon federal appointment.  Arguelles’ nomination probably means that California’s Democratic senators have, at least preliminarily, signed off on the nomination.  His path to confirmation depends on his ability to keep their support.


[1] Press Release, Office of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gov. Schwarzenegger Appoints James Arguelles to Sacramento County Superior Court, Oct. 18, 2010 (available at Targeted News Service).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] See Denny Walsh, Two Californians Guilty of Money Laundering, Sacramento Bee, June 1, 2002.

[5] David Richie, Two Former Sacramento, Calif., Water Officials Face Fraud, Tax Charges, Sacramento Bee, Oct. 10, 2003.

[6] See Saaremets v. Whirlpool Corp., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 261 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 18, 2010).

[7] See id. at *26.

[8] See id.

[9] See Don Thompson, California Shaken Baby Conviction Set Aside After 15 Years, A.P., Dec. 8, 2017.

[10] See Anna Okada, Alleged Looter During Sacramento Police Brutality Protests Wins Pretrial Release After Outpouring of Community Support, Davis Vanguard, June 15, 2020, https://www.davisvanguard.org/2020/06/alleged-looter-during-sacramento-police-brutality-protests-wins-pretrial-release-after-outpouring-of-community-support/.  

[11] See id.

[12] See id.