Judge Ware reprimanded by his peers

Publication Date: Wednesday Aug 26, 1998

COURTS: Judge Ware reprimanded by his peers

Federal jurist scolded for misrepresenting himself in civil rights story

U.S. District Court Judge James Ware, a former Palo Alto attorney and Santa Clara County Superior Court judge, has been reprimanded by his peers for misrepresenting himself as the brother of a boy killed by racists in Alabama in 1963.

The majority of the eight-member Judicial Council of the Northern District Court of California agreed Ware should be publicly reprimanded for judicial misconduct because his story had been widely reported in the media, which the council feared might have a negative effect on the public's image of the court.

"Because of the very public nature of the original tragedy and the public nature of the misrepresentations, as well as their discovery, it is important that discipline of Judge Ware be public and a part of the historical record," Judge Mary Schroeder wrote in the majority opinion.

Schroeder added, however, that they found no indication that Ware's misrepresentation had affected his performance on the bench. There was no recommendation for Ware to step down or reduce his caseload.

"The making of false statements, even in public, is not criminal activity," Schroeder wrote. "Judge Ware did not reap material reward from his misstatements."

One member of the panel, Judge John Coughenour, dissented from the majority opinion, citing several reasons why Ware should not be reprimanded: Ware publicly admitted to misrepresenting himself; the family of the boy who was killed, Virgil Ware, accepted "with profound grace" Ware's apology for his misrepresentation; Ware's story was told in an effort to heighten the public's awareness of "the evil of racial hatred;" and Ware had already suffered sufficient public embarrassment from the episode.

Questions about the veracity of Ware's story surfaced a year ago when he was nominated for a position on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Stories about his nomination appeared in newspapers in Birmingham, Ala., which reported how Ware said he was riding his bike with his brother Virgil Ware when he was shot in 1963. The killing occurred on the same day of the bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church.

But also in 1997, newspapers reported that the church bombing case was being reopened. One story referred to Virgil's brother James Ware, a power plant employee living in Birmingham.

The apparent misrepresentation by Judge Ware was brought to the attention of the Northern District Court of California, based in San Francisco, by an Alabama District Court judge who had seen the newspaper reports. When Ware was confronted about the discrepancy, he admitted his role in the story was not true and, in November 1997, withdrew his nomination to the Court of Appeals. Ware also traveled to Birmingham to apologize to the family of Virgil Ware.

The council found Judge Ware had learned years after Virgil was killed that Judge Ware's father had a second family, also living in Birmingham, and that the judge came to believe that Virgil was his half brother.

Ware practiced with the Palo Alto firm Blase, Valentine and Klein until 1988, when he was appointed to the Santa Clara County Superior Court bench. He has served as a federal district judge since 1990. He is also a former member of the Stanford University board of trustees.1 n

--Charlie Breitrose 

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