Cesar Sarmiento, a Malibu resident who has been a judge for the Superior Court of Los Angeles County for 26 years, is retiring this September as he turns 60 years old. He received his bachelor’s degree from Cal State Northridge and his juris doctorate from UC Davis in 1980. He is an avid surfer and plays guitar almost everyday. His wife Ellen is an attorney and they have four children together. He has been living in Malibu for 20 years.
The Malibu Times got a chance to sit down with the man who goes surfing before and after work, and doesn’t mind showing up to work with wet hair.
You’ve been a superior court judge for a long time and are retiring in a few months. What will you do next?
I will be doing private mediation and arbitration. It’s a natural segue into the private sector. I like to resolve cases before they get to court. I do it because I like it. I will get to use my experience as a lawyer and attorney. I practiced as an attorney for eight years before being appointed as a judge by the governor in 1988.
What did you do prior to being a judge?
I practiced as an attorney and deputy district attorney in Los Angeles. I was a public defender and district attorney prior to being judge. Being a judge is a very different job than being an attorney but the transition was fairly easy.
You’ve seen quite a bit in your career. What are some interesting stories? Any case or story that stands out?
When you do this for so long, what’s fascinating for other people is just part of the job for me. It’s hard to be shocked. When I did criminal cases I handled very nasty homicide cases. When I do civil cases it’s more about the emotional intensity. In 26 years I’ve done it all.
What have you learned in your 26-year career as a superior court judge?
The best thing you can do is listen. Really listen to what people say. It sounds like a simple thing, but most people don’t really listen to what someone is saying. And also one of the hardest things is patience. The most important things I’ve learned are to listen and be patient.
You are an avid surfer as well. How often do you enjoy the Malibu waves?
I’ve lived in an area where I surf every day — before work and after work. I sometimes surf before I go to work. I worked at the Malibu courthouse for eight years. I’ve gone to work with wet hair. If it’s something you like to do, you always find time for it.
You are a musician too. What do you play?
I play the guitar and a little bit of keyboard. I’ve played in bands and I play solo. I’ve been playing since I was 10 years old. I started in the ‘60s when the Beatles and Rolling Stones came out. I play everyday. How have you seen Malibu change over the years?
It’s grown more. There’s a lot more people over the period of time. That’s been the biggest change. It used to be a very remote and distance place, it’s not like that anymore. People don’t have a problem commuting to Los Angeles and the Westside nowadays. It’s a lot more popular now. It seemed to really grow in the ‘90s.
What is your favorite thing about Malibu?
The people and the sense of community, especially if you have children. The beauty of the area, the ocean, the weather. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.
How was it having your portrait painted by Johanna Spinks?
It was interesting. I’ve never sat for a portrait before. But she is very professional. I’m looking forward to seeing it.
Johanna Spinks paints portraits by commission. Visit johannaspinks. com or call 310.384.7029.