New Judges

New Judge Relishes Tackling Problems

Judge Hight Traveling around the State of California, one of the professional accomplishments of Sacramento Superior Court Judge Robert C. Hight is not so much what you see, as what you don’t see.

Hight, age 58, spent 28 years with the State Lands Commission-first as staff attorney, then as Chief Counsel, and, finally, as Executive Officer. He has spent the last five years heading the CA Department of Fish and Game.

During those years he helped shepherd the acquisition of more than 50,000 acres, valued at approximately $1 billion. He is proud to have “left a legacy for the people of the State of California of a vast amount of open space that will never be developed and will always be pristine.”

According to those who know Hight and have worked with him, he is a person who relishes solving problems and resolving issues.

California Department of Fish & Game General Counsel Michael R. Valentine said Hight was particularly good at being “a problem solver, using the law and policy to resolve conflicts that are sometimes very large and very complex. Solving problems is very much his focus.”

Appointed to the bench by former Gov. Gray Davis, Hight worked for the State Lands Commission from 1971 to 1999. From 1974 to 1994 he was Chief Counsel at the Commission and then Executive Officer from 1994 to 1999. In 1999, then Gov. Gray Davis asked him serve as the Director at the Department of Fish and Game.

During those years, he was involved in helping resolve many of the disputes in part generated by the State’s increasing population. California is increasing by 1,000,000 people each year, which requires 250,000 new housing units.

This influx of people and homes creates great pressure on California’s species and wildlife, Hight said. The only way to resolve these issues is through cooperative planning, he added.

He particularly enjoyed “trying to make the system work to resolve” problems and issues, he said. “If you work hard enough, study hard enough, you can make the system work.”

It is no surprise that he has a low-key, friendly upbeat manner that is a little reminiscent of the Jimmy Stewart character from “It’s A Wonderful Life.” He grew up in the small town of Alturas in Northern California. His parents owned a restaurant called Hight’s Cafe a block from the Alturas courthouse.

“It was like a big family,” he said of growing up in a small town. “You literally knew everybody. I think that made me more attuned to people’s feelings, needs and wants.”

Attorneys and judges ate at the restaurant. One judge often had three meals a day. “It took some of the mystery out of the legal system,” he said.

After obtaining an undergraduate degree from Pacific University in Oregon, he went to McGeorge School of Law with an idea that he might become a prosecutor. He was also a friend of the District Attorney.

“It looked interesting and it looked like he was having lots of fun,” he said. Instead, he accepted a job with the State Lands Commission. The rest, as they say, is history.

Over the years Hight was able to forge a consensus on issues through “sheer persistence and patience to recognize and separate out the legitimate needs from people’s negotiating positions, and see that everyone’s needs are to some extent met,” Valentine said.

He added that Hight’s strength is not only “a strong ability to deal with people,” but also “a very strong analytical ability.”

The day Hight took over at the Department of Fish and Game he reportedly told employees, “I’m here to work with you. I’m here to see what we can do to facilitate the programs that are important to this State. I’m here to break down the barriers to get things done. I’m here and I’m accessible.”

The same style will likely mark Hight’s tenure on the bench. He is “very low-key but down-to-earth and pragmatic,” said attorney Louis J. Anapolsky, who knows Hight, personally, through exercising with him and working alongside him in a community organization. “He will be very respectful of counsel and litigants appearing before him. He has the ability to manage people” and will run his courtroom with an abundance of “patience and temperance.”

Hight said he has been “very impressed with the attorneys who have appeared before me. The bar that has appeared before me has been very professional.” His suggestion for attorneys was to “state the issue succinctly and give your suggested answer.”

Hight said there has been a “great camaraderie” among the Sacramento Superior Court judges. “Everybody here goes out of their way to be helpful,” he said.

July / August 2004