The Honorable Ernest Sawtelle
The Honorable Ernest Sawtelle yearned to be a trial attorney from the time he was a seventh-grader. Becoming a Superior Court judge three years ago capped a 17-year career goal as a prosecutor.
Sawtelle, who grew up in a small town near Redding, was so determined to be a part of the criminal justice system that he pursued a rigorous pre-law academic regimen at Sacramento State. He graduated with honors in four years. He earned his Juris doctorate degree with distinction from McGeorge School of Law, clerked for the county district attorney’s office and was hired as an assistant DA in 1991.
Sawtelle recalls his Sac State days with pride and pleasure. “It was a great experience, he says, “the feel of the campus, solid professors who prepared me very well for the study of law.” He’s particularly grateful for the writing and analytical thinking skills he learned.
At McGeorge his classmates included graduates of Harvard, Yale, UC Berkeley and UC Davis. The education he received at Sac State, however, not only enabled him to thrive, but prepared him as a prosecutorial bulldog. His conviction rate and managerial talents hastened his rise in the DA’s office.
Sawtelle’s track record also made him a prime candidate for the bench. He was among thousands of judgeship applicants in 2003 and was placed on a short list of possible gubernatorial appointees the following year. But the call to confirm his acceptance of the appointment came four years later. And he almost missed it. “My cell phone was turned off for several days because of the birth of our daughter,” he says.
He finally retrieved a second message three days later and hurriedly replied, hoping the judicial window had not closed. It had not and he happily took the oath of office Dec. 5, 2007, as his family looked on with considerable pride.
Sawtelle is content to conclude his career in Superior Court. “The appellate level is paperwork,” he says, “I enjoy the give and take of the courtroom.” He concedes that he misses being a trial attorney from time to time, particularly when a lawyer before him is bungling the case.
But he’s satisfied to remain on the bench. It’s a far cry from the days when he left for Sacramento State in 1984 and for the next four years basically subsisted as a starving student on Top Ramen noodles, worked part time and took out $1,500 in student loans. “My high school (50 students) graduating class was 15 compared to 20,000-plus students enrolled at Sac State,” he adds. “But I loved it.”