Judge Scott Gordon interrupted the attorney.
"You're from Texas?" Gordon asked.
In baseball terms, this would be like asking Derek Jeter if he played for the New York Yankees. The attorney, Steve Susman, has been ranked as one of the top 10 trial lawyers in America.
Susman had suggested to Gordon how exhibits should be numbered for trial. Susman had described his plan once, then twice, then tried for a third time. Gordon had listened patiently the first two times, then cut Susman off and asked whether he was from Texas.
"It's a fantastic state," Gordon said. "The last thing I would do in Texas is tell a Texas judge how to run his court."
Gordon's no-nonsense, plain-spoken style reflects his days as a police officer and a war-crimes investigator. It also may signal how he plans to handle the Frank and Jamie McCourt divorce case, which will determine who owns the Dodgers.
Susman, whose name stands atop a firm described as a "litigation assault weapon" in the American Bar Assn. Journal, represents Frank McCourt, who claims that the Dodgers are his and his alone.
David Boies, a New Yorker who was cocounsel in the case that persuaded a federal judge to overturn Proposition 8 this month and lead attorney for Al Gore in litigation that effectively decided the 2000 presidential election, represents Jamie McCourt, who claims that she is a co-owner of the Dodgers.
The trial starts Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court. In divorce court, where there is no jury, Gordon sets the ground rules and makes the decision.
"He's perfect for this case," said Lynn Soodik, a Santa Monica family law attorney. "He's very smart. Sometimes it can be hard when you've got heavyweight attorneys, some from out of town. He's not intimidated at all."
Daniel Barbakow, a Beverly Hills family law attorney, said Gordon "has been imbued with common sense and good judgment."
"He would have made a good umpire," Barbakow said. "He calls them as he sees them."
Gordon, 54, graduated from South High School in Torrance in 1974. He studied at the Air Force Academy and at Cal State Dominguez Hills, and he joined the Santa Monica Police Department in 1977.
Michael Rains, a prominent San Francisco Bay Area criminal defense attorney who represented Barry Bonds while the federal government investigated him for perjury, worked with Gordon on the Santa Monica police force. Rains and Gordon shared the overnight shift.
"It was a constant diet of drunks and drug addicts, and some burglars," Rains said. "You're around what I always used to refer to as the armpit of society. It burned me out. My mouth was always getting me into trouble.
"Scott never seemed to have those issues. He was always in control. Every time we needed somebody, he was there."
Jim Martz, a Florida judge who also worked the beat with Gordon in Santa Monica, said Gordon refused to shrug off the human indignities that wore down other officers.
On one call, Martz said, Gordon discovered a woman who had burned her child's hand as a means of discipline. He said Gordon wondered what he might be able to do beyond police work in order to prevent such situations.
"Scott is one of those guys that, when he sees a problem, he needs to solve it," Martz said.
Gordon graduated from Southwestern Law School in 1985 and worked at a downtown law firm for several months, then joined the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. He specialized in issues of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault, and he applied that expertise as part of the O.J. Simpson prosecution team.
"He came out of the Simpson case a little disappointed in the system," Martz said. "He needed to do something more meaningful."
So Gordon researched and cowrote a book, "Shadow Enemies," about eight German terrorists dispatched by Adolf Hitler during World War II to sabotage U.S. water and power plants and bomb train stations and Jewish-owned department stores.
He also worked with United Nations tribunals prosecuting war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. According to Martz, he helped secure more than $1.5 million in supplies so the tribunals could use computers rather than handwritten notes and obtain GPS devices to find and describe crime scenes.
"For an individual to step up and say, 'We've got to fix the United Nations,' that's just Scott," Martz said.
Gordon became a court commissioner in 2002, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him a judge in April. He was assigned to a family law courtroom.
"Scott told me he enjoys it," Rains said. "It's a chance to try to make sense out of a lot of chaos and make people feel better about themselves and their lives when there is so much anger."
In discussions about how soon the McCourt case could go to trial, Gordon told lawyers on both sides that high-profile does not mean high-priority, reminding them that cases about child custody and battered spouses carry greater urgency than one about the ownership of a baseball team, no matter how storied.
Gordon declined to comment for this story. In an interview with the Los Angeles Daily Journal in May, he described the challenge in determining the best interests of children from broken homes.
"There's a lot of gray," he said. "It's like my hair. It's all shades of gray."