A characteristic that makes a person not only good at what they do, but also enjoy what they do, is a value for vocation, formed at an early age and sustained through positive experiences. The Honorable William A. Ingram, a senior U.S. District Court judge for the Northern District of California, is an example of one who values being an agent of the law and is, therefore, well thought of by his colleagues and continues to enjoy his chosen vocation.
Judge Ingram’s interest in the law as a lifetime occupation arose at a young age, when he was about 10 to 12 years old. He listened intently to legal tales told by and about family members who had legal careers. His great-grandfather, Jonus G. Howard, was a distinguished Indiana lawyer and for a short period of time a member of Congress. Jonus’s son, Judge Ingram’s great-uncle, practiced also and was active in the law up to the early 1950’s. After completing an undergraduate degree and service in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, Judge Ingram went on to receive an L.L.B. from the University of Louisville School of Law. He was offered a position in his great-uncle’s law firm, but he chose to forge out on his own and moved with his wife to California.
Judge Ingram began private practice in 1951 in San Francisco, serving as deputy district attorney in Santa Clara County from 1955 to 1957, and practicing in San Jose for the next fourteen years until being appointed to the Municipal Court in Palo Alto by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1969. In 1971, Governor Reagan appointed Judge Ingram to the Supreme Court in Santa Clara County. In 1976, President Gerald Ford appointed him to his current post of U.S. District Court judge. He took senior status in 1990.
While deputy district attorney in Santa Clara County, Judge Ingram gained a substantial depth of experience in criminal matters. However, he feels the most important thing that happened during those years was his mentor relationship with Judge William F. James, who at that time managed the criminal calendar for the Superior Court in San Jose. Though there was no formal decision made that Judge James would mentor Judge Ingram, the effect on Ingram’s values and outlook as a result of observing James is undeniable.
Judge Ingram states, “Throughout my time at the Bar and on the Bench, if there was one guiding circumstance, it was the influence of Judge James who not only was brilliantly competent in the legal field, but also exemplified all of the traits set forth in the American Inns of Court creed. Judge James, during the time that I knew him, tried only criminal cases and supervised the criminal aspects of the work of the county grand jury. His demeanor toward every person who entered his courtroom whether as a litigant, a lawyer, a member of a jury, or in any other capacity was characterized by meticulous courtesy and consideration of the needs and concerns of each person. At the same time Judge James’ unswerving application of the law and of the public interest in criminal cases was faultless. He served as a Superior Court Judge for thirty-three years and I had the good fortune to come under his influence for the last third of his tenure.”
Currently, as a senior judge, Judge Ingram has not had an assigned calendar for about the past four years. His time has been spent trying cases for other judges on the court, taking a turn as general duty judge two or three times a year for a month at a time, and working on death penalty habeas corpus cases, research and written opinions. As those matters are coming to an end, Judge Ingram plans to actively try cases again.
Outside the work of the court, Judge Ingram has been very involved with the American Inns of Court in California. He was the honorary president of the seminal Society of Inns of Court of California prior to 1986. He was a founder and director of the Santa Clara American Inn of Court, founded in 1987. He also drafted the Inns bylaws. He continues to serve as a Master Emeritus and has made his courtroom available for the Inn’s monthly meetings.
As well as being involved in legal matters, Judge Ingram enjoys gardening and reading history with emphasis on the War Between the States and British legal history. He and his wife have three daughters and four grandchildren.