For Donald Franson Jr. ’78, a successful life requires taking advantage of every opportunity.
That philosophy has led to a host of different chapters in his 34-year legal career. Ultimately, it prompted him to become a judge with California’s Fifth District Court of Appeal—the same position his late father, Donald Franson Sr. ’51, held more than two decades ago.
Was this part of a strategic father-son plot to dominate the Central Valley bench? Not at all, says Franson, who barely considered becoming a lawyer, much less a judge, until after college. Yet he admits this judgeship has suited him between than he expected and has left him reflecting on the ways his father’s legacy still shapes his practice.
Franson remembers his father as an esteemed figure in the legal community, the type of judge with whom lawyers would disagree but always respect. When it came time to pick a law school, Franson chose UC Hastings, partly because his father had always spoken highly of the school.
“My father had told me about UC Hastings’ 65 Club, which hired top faculty after they had been forced into retirement at other law schools. UC Hastings was literally the Who’s Who of law professors,” says Franson, who son, Donald “Ross” Franson III ’11, also attended UC Hastings.
After graduation, Franson held a wide range of legal positions. Then, sitting at a local lunch counter in 2004, he ran into California Supreme Court Justice Marvin Baxter ’66, who suggested Franson apply for a judicial appointment. Franson hesitated but eventually decided to give it a try. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Franson to the Fresno County Superior Court in 2005, and the Fifth District Court of Appeal in 2010.
Franson revels in the freedom judges have to seek right decisions “without having a gun to my head.” He’s especially proud that he models his court after his father’s high ethical standards.
“My dad believed his position as a judge was a sacred trust,” he says. “I guess you could say I try to model myself after him in this way.”
What advice would you give to aspiring judges?
Don’t burn any bridges. Some lawyers these days act like politicians, insulting the other side, writing nasty letters. But when you apply to become a judge, those same lawyers will be questioned about you. Let’s return to civility in law.