"I think people should recognize their errors and pay for them. I think it's my responsibility to send a wake-up call," he said. "I get a lot of letters from people who say, 'At the time I thought you were awful, but it's the best thing that ever happened to me.' "
His tough sentences had nothing to do with his religion, he said. And he laughs at attorneys' assumptions that he might mentally link sentences and salvation.
"I've had [attorneys] come to court and say, 'My client has repented, judge,' thinking that would have some influence on me. I don't laugh out loud, but I do laugh at that."
He is less amused by assumptions that his stiff sentences grew from frustration that no California governor saw him worthy of elevation to the Superior Court. Judicial appointments are all politics, he said. And he has had no gubernatorial pull since the term of Ronald Reagan, who appointed him to the lower court.
"Frustrated? That's what people think. But I don't think it had anything to do with it," he said. "It's bad enough to sentence people for their own sins, much less my own. You'll find I was a tough sentencer from Day 1."
Hunter said he never felt frustrated on the Municipal Court. He liked the work, the issues and courtroom milieu, he said. Still, he said he is clearly better suited to his current position.
"I do like civil. I've always been interested in practicing civil law," he said. "This really is nice . . . I enjoy what I'm doing now the best."
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Profile of John J. Hunter
Education: Bachelor's degree in political science and English, Brigham Young University, 1960; master's in political science, BYU, 1960; juris doctorate, USC, 1963.
Experience: Deputy district attorney, 1963-67; civil attorney, Thousand Oaks, 1967-70; judge, Municipal Court, 1970-92, six years as presiding judge; assigned to Superior Court, civil judge and coordinator of fast-track, case-reduction program, 1992-present; lecturer, civil law to new judges, state Judicial College, 1981-present.
Family: Wife, Louine, homemaker; eight sons and two daughters, ages 16 to 37; father, Howard W. Hunter, was president-prophet, the highest-ranking position of Mormon Church, until his death last year.
Community Activities: Past president, Ventura County Council, Boy Scouts of America; trustee, Ojai Valley Community Hospital; former bishop and stake president in Thousand Oaks, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; current president, young men's programs, Ventura stake, LDS.