August 2019
Tips from the Bench: Judge Fredrick L. Link

By Kevin B. Hambly

Shinnick & Ryan, LLP

Fredrick L. Link is a judge for the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego.  He worked as a Judge for the San Diego County Municipal Court from 1981 to 1990 and has been a Superior Court judge since June 1990. Today, he presides over both criminal and civil cases in Department 2201.

His pathway to the bench
Judge Link grew up in Southern California where he surfed and maintained an active lifestyle.  After graduating from high school, Judge Link attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree.  He went on to study law at the University of San Diego, where he obtained his Juris Doctor in 1969. 

After obtaining his degree, Judge Link worked as Deputy District Attorney for two years.  Within the first six months of becoming a deputy DA, Judge Link represented the people in his first murder case at trial, which took place on his birthday.

After working as a DA, Judge Link went into private practice for 12 years. His practice focused on representing criminal clients.  After spending time in private practice, Judge Link was appointed to the bench.  He presided over criminal cases for over 19 years.  He now presides over mostly civil cases, which include medical malpractice and business litigation trials.  He still presides over criminal matters between civil trials.

The shift from litigating cases to working on the bench

The most difficult change for Judge Link was shifting his mindset from thinking as an advocate to thinking as a judge.  As an advocate, an attorney may take a specific position on behalf of a client to further the client’s interest.  The attorney can stick to that position throughout the duration of the case, and zealously advocate on the client’s behalf.  If an attorney becomes a judge and brings this manner of thinking to the bench, the judge will have difficulty not jumping to conclusions.  An effective judge will wait until he or she hears all the evidence before reaching a conclusion.  A judge must also endeavor to reach the “right” conclusion, rather than the conclusion that benefits the client.  This shift in thinking was the most unexpected and difficult change when switching from private practice to working as a judge.

Considering all the factors in criminal cases

Judge Link says that there are certain factors regarding the defendant’s lifestyle, etc., that could have an effect on the resulting judgment, whether those factors are negative or positive.  These factors might include whether the defendant is a first-time offender, or whether he or she comes from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background.  Regardless of these factors, however, the law must speak for itself.  If someone breaks the law and ends up before the court, that person will need to pay society for his or her actions. 

Advice for new lawyers
Judge Link believes that the best experience for a new lawyer is to work up cases and take them to trial.  In Judge Link’s experience as a judge, many attorneys appear unprepared at trial.  This is a consequence of inadequate research and organization of the case.  Many attorneys also come to court without have the basics covered such as voir dire, opening and closing arguments and direct and cross examination.  A good trial lawyer will have everything prepared, know their witnesses and tell a compelling story to the jury.  The best way to overcome inadequate preparation is to dig deep in one’s file and properly work the case up for trial. 

Judge Link also suggests that new lawyers find a good mentor.  If a new lawyer works at a firm that does not typically take cases to trial, the new lawyer should find a mentor who does.  If a new lawyer shadows such a mentor, the new lawyer should take note of what works for the mentor and what does not work.  A good lawyer should find his or her “voice” as a trial attorney.  To do this, the new lawyer will want to avoid mimicking his or her mentor because what works for other attorneys may not work for the new lawyer. 

Additionally, Judge Link thinks that a new lawyer should stay away from trying to be profound when presenting a case a trial.  New lawyers will typically try to be overly academic.  They might, for instance, present their case to a jury as if they are briefing a case in law school.  If an attorney does this at trial, the attorney will lose the attention of the jury, which could ultimately cost the attorney his or her case. To avoid this, an attorney should pretend as if he or she is telling an interesting story to a friend. The attorney should never rely on notes in front of the jury.

Lastly, Judge Link suggests that new lawyers not simply repeat all of the evidence. Great trial attorneys are concise, direct and only go into the evidence that is critical for winning his or her case.  These attorneys may even imbue certain theatrics into their courtroom performance, which is how great attorneys are able to captivate the attention of the jury and obtain a great result for the client. Attorneys who do this are the best at trial because they present their client in a compelling and meaningful way. Therefore, a jury is more likely to connect with the attorney during his or her performance.