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Corbett was a star athlete before he was a scholar. He lived by the skin of his teeth in Missouri after coming home from Beiruit. He is a firebrand who backs his belief that those who are able should stand up and fight the good fight with every inch of his black-Irish frame. He sees education as the root solution to many social problems, so he wrote a book proposing school reform.

He is also one of the best teachers I have ever had, relentlessly challenging and engaging, vocal in his pursuit to point out the significance of history to current events and politics.

In 2007, James Corbett was sued by Chad Farnan for making comments referring to creationism as "superstitious nonsense" in an European History classroom. Farnan, a student, was represented by the Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a Christian legal organization also active in defending Prop 8. Corbett was represented by Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine's School of Law.

In 2009, a district judge sided with Farnan but dismissed all but one of his claims. Corbett appealed to the Ninth Circuit. In 2011, the court overturned the ruling, but the Advocates appealed on Farnan's behalf, this time to the Supreme Court. In Feb, 2012, the highest court declined to hear the case, letting the Ninth Circuit's decision stand. (The National Center for Science Education has a succint summary of Farnan v. Corbett & Capistrano Valley USD.)

In 2012, incensed that Republican Diane Harkey would be running unopposed for the California State Assembly in the 73rd District, Corbett launched a campaign as the Democratic challenger in one of the most conservative districts in the state, hoping for a windfall from bad press from the trial for the fraud lawsuit against Harkey's husband.

The trial, slated to end three days before the election, would create the perfect storm. But already having been delayed for three years by the Harkeys, once again the date was pushed back past the date of the election, and the support of the Democratic party that Corbett hoped would be forthcoming during the public media frenzy did not materialize. Corbett garnered almost 60,000 votes, but lost the election.