Yosemite National Park judge stepping down

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK - William M. Wunderlich, who for the past five years served as the federal magistrate judge in Yosemite National Park, resigned for health reasons effective Monday.

Anthony W. Ishii, who is chief judge for the Eastern District of California, confirmed that the Administrative Office of the United States Courts approved a medical disability retirement for Wunderlich.

Wunderlich's last day was Friday. U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Beck handled Wunderlich's duties Monday.Quantcast

"We deeply appreciate Judge Wunderlich's service to our court, and we wish him all the best for his health and for his future," Ishii said Monday.

Ishii said Wunderlich, 62, had been experiencing medical issues for "some time now."

Wunderlich's departure comes five years into an eight-year term, and less than two months after a guilty verdict he handed down in fall 2007 was overturned because of a hangman's noose that was on display in his chambers.

Sonora resident Lorenzo Baca had appealed the verdict for trespassing on a cultural resource and doing business in the park without a permit.

"A prominently displayed hangman's noose has no place in a federal magistrate judge's judicial chambers. ..." U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger wrote in his decision to overturn the verdict. "It is a judge's obligation to be a guardian of liberty and to always strive to assure the appearance of impartiality."

Wanger's ruling referenced a profile of the judge and the Yosemite courthouse that had been published in August 2007 in The Fresno Bee and included a photo of Wunderlich with the noose. A short time later, the San Jose Mercury News published a similar feature story with similar photos.

After the ruling, Wunderlich sent a private e-mail to Wanger, writing "there may be some factual discrepancies ... which I would like to call to your attention. If you are willing to entertain my comments, how would [you] like me to present them?"

Wanger instead put the e-mail into the Baca court file, noting in an accompanying legal document that it is "a pending proceeding" and an illegal communication under federal rules. Wunderlich's e-mail was a private communication with a judge ruling on a case that involved him.

Wunderlich, who was a state appellate court justice in San Jose before taking over as the magistrate judge in Yosemite, did not return a call seeking comment on his retirement.

He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and received his law degree from the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law in 1972 after completing night studies while working full time as a program consultant for the state Assembly.

Local federal judicial authorities are waiting for authorization to fill the Yosemite magistrate judge position. As soon as that is given, a national search will begin, Wanger said.

Meanwhile, magistrate judges from Fresno will alternate handling the Yosemite cases. They are also handling cases in Bakersfield, where U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Goldner left this year to become county counsel for Kern County.