Best Judge (2013)

Arthur Nakazato

Far too many judges in Orange County act as mindless rubber stamps for police search-warrant requests and don't hide their pro-government bias during court proceedings. Given that ugly truth, this year's Best Judge honors easily go to U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Nakazato, who works inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana. In 1996, after a private legal-practice career, Nakazato became the first Japanese American appointee in the continental United States to become a federal magistrate judge. He was a founding member of the Orange County Japanese American Lawyers Association and, during his time on the bench, has created a no-nonsense persona that does not tolerate incompetence or corruption from lawyers. For example, prosecutors in OC know certain judges will automatically grant even laughable assertions that a document needs to be sealed from public view for security reasons, when, in truth, they want to hide sloppy work or underhanded deals with favored criminal-defense lawyers. Earlier this year, a federal prosecutor tried to block an organized-crime defendant's pretrial release from jail by claiming the Los Angeles businessman who asked to post $2 million in bail was also a criminal target. No sucker, Nakazato demanded the assistant United States Attorney back up his claim. The prosecutor couldn't, apologized and found himself booted from the case.


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