SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - One day in 2011 during the height of the economic crisis, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Kevin Culhane noticed a line of people snaking through the courthouse doors to an adjacent park. Hundreds of people were waiting to file paperwork in Culhane's family court, and some were bartering and exchanging their numbered-tickets in order to skip the growing line. Recent budget cuts slashed 10 employees from the family court and the number of clerks' windows shrunk from nine to one seemingly overnight.
Now, after eight years of navigating overloaded court calendars and increasingly reduced resources, Culhane has risen to the top of the bench after being selected to be presiding judge of the Sacramento Superior Court. A cache of private and public law experience has prepared Culhane to lead 61 judges and approximately 650 employees in one of California's busiest superior courts.
Before being elected to the bench in 2008, Culhane was a partner at a law firm in Sacramento for 32 years handling trial and appellate cases. Along with his private practice, Culhane served as vice president of the State Bar of California and headed numerous Judicial Council committees.
Culhane spent three years on the state bar's board of governors in the 1980s and credits the stint with allowing him to network and practice with some of the best and most talented attorneys in the state, like Ron Olsen and sports business law expert Alan Rothenberg.
"They are great sounding boards and good friends," Culhane said.
During his time on the board, Culhane helped create the Trial Court Delay Reduction Act and implemented legal classes aimed at reducing gender bias in California courts. Culhane received the Judicial Council's distinguished service award in 1993 and has continued to serve on various committees over the last 20 years.
Serving on the state bar and Judicial Council forced Culhane to dissect complex statewide issues and argue solutions in front of the state Legislature.
Growing up in Los Angeles and later Yucaipa, Culhane was surrounded by the successes of his large, accomplished family. Leaning forward in his chair, legs crossed, Culhane proudly recounted his family's achievements and casually proclaimed himself "the underachiever" out of his six siblings.
"I was never that kid that got the straight A's in class and that sort of thing," Culhane said from his chambers on a fall afternoon. "I have a brother that wrote the algorithm for your FICO score- he spoke at the Smithsonian last year. I have another brother that runs every Sutter hospital [emergency room] between here and Dallas. My oldest sister teaches Chinese history at the University of New Mexico."
Culhane is inherently loyal and brushes off questions about his career path, preferring to talk about the exploits of his family and fellow superior court judges. He's had the same clerk since he arrived at the Gordon D. Schaber Courthouse in 2007 and he's taught law at the same school - the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law - for 39 years.
Sacramento has provided a stable foundation for Culhane and enabled him to plant deep roots for both his family and career. He and his wife Jeanne first stumbled upon California's capital city when he enrolled at McGeorge. Over 40 years later, he can still be found on the small campus tucked in one of the city's oldest neighborhoods.