In Bay Area legal circles, U.S. District Judge Jeremy D. Fogel has a reputation for unraveling Silicon Valley's most tangled technology cases and encouraging courtroom combatants to settle before they even reach trial.
But the 53-year-old San Jose resident is best known for his involvement in controversial cases concerning medicinal marijuana and the sale of Nazi memorabilia on the Internet.
On Friday, Fogel added California's Oct. 7 recall election to that list of contentious issues. He announced, in response to complaints from civil rights groups, that he might postpone the vote.
A moderate Democrat who was appointed to the federal bench in the Northern District of California by President Clinton in 1998, Fogel has been described as among the court's youngest and brightest jurists.
"To be as experienced a federal judge as Jeremy is at age 53 is very rare," said Marc Poche, a Santa Clara County Superior Court jurist.
"He's got a reputation as a very balanced, very thoroughgoing guy."
Fogel made international headlines last year when he ruled that Yahoo Inc. did not have to comply with a French order banning Nazi-related content from Web sites on its system.
The judge determined that the 1st Amendment protected content generated by U.S. companies and could not be regulated from overseas.
Fogel is currently considering whether to prevent the U.S. government from acting against a medicinal marijuana users' group in Santa Cruz whose farm was raided. At a July hearing, the judge said he had been moved by the declarations of dying marijuana users and would rule soon.
Fogel, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Fairfax High School, began his career on the bench as the state's youngest municipal court judge at the time. He was 31 when Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to the Santa Clara Municipal Court in 1981. Five years later, he became a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge.
"He served with great distinction in the state courts," said California Chief Justice Ronald M. George. "He's very active and well-respected."
Fogel was awarded the California Judges Assn.'s President's Award in 1997 in recognition of his teaching and writing on judicial ethics, among other things.
Many of the cases Fogel hears involve Silicon Valley corporations, class-action securities disputes, trade secrets and intellectual property.
In an interview last year with the Recorder, a Bay Area legal newspaper, Fogel acknowledged that he tended to try fewer cases than other San Jose-based judges.
"I don't try many cases," Fogel said. "It's not because I am not willing. It's just -- they settle. A lot of times a case goes to trial because you have not turned over all stones for settlement. A fair number of cases go to trial and don't need to go to trial."
The son of an attorney, Fogel graduated from Stanford University and Harvard University School of Law. He worked as general counsel to the San Jose Housing Service Center, where he represented the poor in landlord-tenant disputes. He also was directing attorney for the Santa Clara County Bar Assn.'s Mental Health Advocacy Project.
As a private attorney, Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals worked with Fogel's father and has known Jeremy Fogel since he was a boy. Reinhardt described him as a moderate Democrat.
"He understands the problems of people," Reinhardt said.
"Even liberal judges who are good on the Constitution sometimes don't understand the problems that people have. Jeremy has compassion."