Retired CA Supreme Ct. Justice
Twenty-five years ago, Negotiation and Settlement was the “yeah, sure” law school class, the one you were required to take but figured you’d never need. After all, as a litigator you were going to knock the pants off opposing counsel, not share fondue with them.
Edward Panelli B.S. ’53, J.D. ’55 had a different vision. Then a superior court judge for Santa Clara County, Panelli observed that only 5 percent of cases made it to trial; 95 percent settled. But settlements tended to be made on the courthouse steps, which meant courts were bogged down with, and litigants were paying for, all of the litigation prior to trial. “We wanted to find a way to move up the settlement process,” says Panelli.
Panelli began to educate young as well as experienced lawyers about the benefits of settling early. “He would teach us important concepts as he went through the conference,” recalls Cullen, who was a young lawyer in San Jose in the early ’80s. “We would see how he worked. His focus was always on the benefit to the litigants — fair settlements and avoiding risks and costs, and also the benefit to the court of making sure only the hardest cases got tried.”
After 17 years in private practice, 22 years on the bench, and a dozen years as a mediator/arbitrator, Justice Panelli believes that the only cases that should go to trial are “those that may set a precedent or that involve an overriding public interest.” In all others, he believes that a just resolution can be reached through alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
The biggest obstacles to achieving this goal are, interestingly, attorneys’ own attitudes. “Because lawyers are compensated by the time they invest in their cases, sometimes it is not in the lawyer’s best interest to get the case resolved,” says Panelli. Second, and equally troubling, is “lawyer arrogance.” “To get resolution you have to be willing to compromise,” he says. “Rarely is one side 100 percent right.”
Panelli’s relationship with SCU is unique. While many alumni can say they grew up at SCU, in terms of intellect, maturity, and spirituality, few can say they literally grew up on campus. Panelli can. He was born in Santa Clara, in a home that was across the street from Bergin Hall. The site is presently marked by a plaque on the wall of the Shapell Lounge. His family moved back to Lucca, Italy when he was a baby. They returned to Santa Clara several years later, settling into a house at 576 Benton Street in a neighborhood of modest homes, canneries and a blacksmith shop. His parents were laborers who worked in fruit packing and canneries. When Panelli began school, he knew no English other than what he had picked up at a neighbor’s house.
Panelli quickly assumed leadership roles in his parish, his school, and his community. At Santa Clara High School, he was class president each of his four years. He earned his bachelor’s degree from SCU in 1953 and his law degree in 1955. Upon graduation, he co-founded Pasquinelli and Panelli in San Jose, where he practiced for 17 years and served as general counsel to SCU and the California Province of the Society of Jesus.
Panelli has kept a close relationship with SCU. He served for 43 years on its Board of Trustees, including 19 years as its chair. Panelli says, “SCU’s Jesuit ideals strengthened what I believe are the most important qualities of a leader: integrity, honesty, forthrightness.”
Panelli’s 22-year judicial career began in 1972 with his appointment to Santa Clara County’s superior court by Governor Ronald Reagan. He rose quickly in the judicial system, becoming an associate justice on the First District Court of Appeals in 1983, presiding justice of the new Sixth Appellate District Court of Appeal in 1984, and in 1985, an associate justice of the California Supreme Court, appointed by Governor George Deukmejian.
In 1994, Justice Panelli left the Supreme Court and became a private judge for the Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Service (JAMS), a private company specializing in ADR. He is one of JAMS’ most respected retired judges.
Panelli is widely recognized as a leader, says Cullen. One of his most respected leadership traits is honesty. “He told us that your professional reputation is the most important thing,” says Cullen. “If you want to be credible, you have to be honest. I still teach this to my students today, and he is the source of it.”
Panelli credits his parents with his values. “My immigrant parents taught me to take responsibility for my actions and encouraged me in all my endeavors. Their mantra was ‘you can be whatever you want to be if you study and work hard.’ This has guided me throughout my life.”
The leadership role that has been his most challenging, says Panelli, was his work on the California Supreme Court. “On certain cases what appeared to me to be the correct decisions were very difficult to convince others to agree to,” he says. He is inspired by the leadership of President Ronald Reagan. “You always knew where he stood,” he says. “He talked the talk and walked the walk. Sometimes you have to take a hard position, and Reagan was willing to do that.”