An Officer and a Gentleman: An Interview with Hon. Wade Rhyne

Hon. Wade RhyneI had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with one of Contra Costa Superior Court’s newest judges, Hon. Wade Maxwell Rhyne. I hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I did.

Q. I understand you grew up near your family’s ranch in Paso Robles, California. Did you work on the ranch?
The ranch was leased for cattle grazing and for growing barley and safflower. Although I spent a lot of time out there, I can’t say that I was much of a ranch hand or a cowboy. My father did, however, teach my sisters and me how to ride and rope, but we were always more interested in activities other than rodeo. My father was the cowboy in our family.

Q. What did you do in your free time growing up?
I was very involved in sports, primarily basketball. I played baseball too, but not very well.

Q. Your first career was as an officer with the Air Force. What drew you to the military?
When I first enrolled at UC Davis as an undergrad, I tried out for the men’s basketball team but did not make it. I just wasn’t good enough. However, I knew I wanted to be involved in an extracurricular activity so I decided to enroll as an officer candidate in the U.S. Air Force ROTC program. My family history includes a great uncle who was the commander of a B-29 bomber crew that was shot down and lost in World War II. While growing up, I always saw his pictures and I was inspired to serve. I wanted to be a pilot just like him.

Q. When did you know you wanted to pursue a legal career?
When I graduated from UC Davis, I earned my ROTC officer commission in the U.S. Air Force as a Second Lieutenant. I had hoped to compete for a pilot slot, but a minor case of color blindness disqualified me. I was pretty devastated. At that point, I applied for a position with the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General (“JAG”) Corps and deferred my active duty service to complete three years of law school. After graduating from UC Hastings College of Law, I entered active duty as an officer in the JAG Corps shortly after 9/11.

Q. What was it like serving in the JAG Corps?
The Air Force sent me to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas for my first assignment. During our base orientation, my wife and I learned all about tornado preparedness, which was the first time we missed California’s earthquakes. We ended up loving our time in Texas.

I had the opportunity to work on both sides of criminal cases, which was a great experience. I tried courts-martial trials for offenses including murder, sexual assault, and narcotics. Later in my military career as a reservist, I had an opportunity to work as a defense counsel as well. I hope those differing perspectives will assist me in my current job.

However, not all that work was courtroom related. JAGs have extra duties, including providing free walk-in legal assistance services to military members and retirees. It was rewarding to help people who needed advice on things like family law, landlord-tenant, and their rights pursuant to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

Q. Are you still involved with the Air Force?
Yes, I’m currently a reservist Lieutenant Colonel. Since leaving active duty in 2004, I have served at the 129th Rescue Wing at Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View. The 129th Rescue Wing provides search and rescue in both combat and civil support roles. Prior to my judicial appointment, I served as the 129th’s Staff Judge Advocate, where I prosecuted and defended military members charged with violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Now I serve in the Office of the Inspector General.

Q. Where did your legal career take you after your active duty military assignment ended?
My wife and I returned from Texas to the Bay Area and I began working as a litigation associate at Morrison & Foerster LLP (MoFo). I wanted to get a taste of the civil practice of law and MoFo was a great place to do it. I worked with some great people there.

While at MoFo, I was lucky to get a chance to serve as a law clerk to the Hon. Martin J. Jenkins at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. So I left MoFo for a one-year clerkship. I had previously worked as a judicial extern for Judge Jenkins while in law school and was honored to have the opportunity to work for him again.

Q. Where did your practice take you after clerking for Judge Jenkins?
I was fortunate on the timing—near the end of the clerkship I was hired as a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California. I then spent almost nine years working in the Oakland Branch Office prosecuting cases from Contra Costa and Alameda Counties. It was a great place to be—interesting cases and outstanding colleagues. I handled a broad range of federal cases, including mail and wire fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, firearms, narcotics, bank robbery, and online child exploitation.

My next challenge was working briefly as a trial attorney in the Enforcement Division of the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission where I litigated and tried alleged violations of federal securities laws. I enjoyed the insider trading cases.

Q. When did you know you wanted to be a judge?
I can’t really pinpoint a precise time. However, as I was wrapping up my time at the U.S. Attorney’s Office I decided that I was going to give it a shot. A judicial mentor advised me that no one can plan a career around a judicial application. I had absolutely no expectation going into the process.

Q. What is the best advice you received from Justice Jenkins?
I’ve been fortunate to be the beneficiary of much professional and personal advice from him. I’ll keep most of that between us. But one thing that I always remember is his advice to young lawyers that an attorney’s most valuable asset is an earned reputation as an honest, ethical, and reasonable advocate.

Q. What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I enjoy spending family time with my wife and daughters. I enjoy that time even more when we are fly fishing, snow skiing, or golfing.

Q. What is one thing most people do not know about you?
More family history—my great-great uncle, Harold “Hal” Rhyne, was a professional baseball player in the 1920s. He played second base for the Pittsburg Pirates, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, and San Francisco Seals. I obviously never met him, but I try to pick-up his memorabilia when I see it online. I have a few great photos and baseball cards.

Q. What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Definitely has to be Game of Thrones.

Wade Maxwell Rhyne was appointed to the Superior Court of California, County of Contra Costa on May 22, 2017 and began his first assignment in Pittsburg after having taken his oath of office on July 31, 2017.

Shannon Stone

Shannon Stone is the Human Resources Director of the Superior Court. She originally joined the court in 2012 as a legal research attorney. She previously worked as an attorney practicing general civil litigation and family law.