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Record Number of LGBT Judges on CA Bench

by by Matthew S. Bajko

Lesbian San Francisco Superior Court Judges Teresa Caffese, left, and Angela Bradstreet attended the BALIF gala last week
Lesbian San Francisco Superior Court Judges Teresa Caffese, left, and Angela Bradstreet attended the BALIF gala last week  (Source:Cynthia Laird)

There were 53 LGBT judges serving on the California bench as of December 31 last year, according to the latest demographic data released by the state's judicial council.

Due to the appointment of several out judges to court vacancies in recent months by Governor Jerry Brown, there are at least 56 LGBT jurists now serving on the state's appellate and trial courts. The number marks a record for the state's bench and a slight increase from the 50 LGBT judges listed in the demographic judicial data for 2016.

There continues to be no LGBT judges on the state's Supreme Court, as all six of the current members identify as heterosexual on the report. That could change if Brown names an LGBT appointee to fill the court's one vacant seat.

Based on a separate annual report released March 1 by the governor's office on the demographic data for judicial applicants and appointees in 2017, Brown named eight LGBT judges to the bench out of 26 LGBT applicants. Between 2011 and 2017 he has appointed a total of 27 LGBT judges out of an applicant pool of 100.

In 1979, at the start of his second term as governor, Brown appointed the first openly gay judge to serve in California, noted gay San Francisco Superior Court Judge Joe Quinn, who was appointed by Brown, as was his husband, appellate Justice Jim Humes.

"At this point, he has appointed more members of the LGBT community than all other California governors combined," Quinn told the Bay Area Reporter. "We have momentum. But we need to keep identifying and promoting strong candidates."

For years LGBT bar associations across the state have been vocal about the need to increase LGBT judicial representation in the Golden State. It was the subject of a report issued in 2015 by five LGBT legal groups in California; at the time there were 41 LGBT judges on the state bench.

At its annual gala March 2, Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom Co-Chair Peter Catalanotti told the B.A.R. that the group was pleased to see the increase in LGBT judges over the last three years.

"Obviously, we still have work to do, but it's moving in the right direction," he said.

Catalanotti said he wasn't sure that the legal groups' report had an effect in terms of the slight increase in the number of out judges, but did say he felt it raised awareness of the issue.

"In that it was effective," Catalanotti said.

According to the latest report compiled by the Judicial Council of California on the diversity of the judiciary, three of the state's six courts of appeal had out judges serving on them in 2017. The 1st District has a gay and a lesbian judge among its ranks, while the 4th District has a lesbian jurist. Brown appointed all three as the first gay or lesbian judges to serve on their respective appellate court.

Fifteen of the state's 58 trial courts - there is one for each county - had at least one LGBT judge serving on its bench last year. Across the state there were 20 lesbian and 27 gay superior court judges.

For the second year in a row there were two bisexual judges serving on trial courts, one in San Bernardino and one in San Joaquin counties. (The report does not identify the names of the judges, as the demographic data is reported anonymously, and the report for 2016 was the first to include the two bisexual judges.)

The state continues to have just one out transgender judge, Victoria Kolakowski, who serves on the Alameda County bench and is married to B.A.R. news editor Cynthia Laird. The LGBT judges accounted for less than 4 percent of the 1,678 total judges serving on the state bench as of the end of 2017.

The Los Angeles Superior Court, with 11 gay and three lesbian judges, continued to have the most LGBT judges of any trial court. (There are now at least 15 due to the appointment in late December of lesbian Judge Susan J. De Witt to the L.A. bench.)

The San Francisco Superior Court had the second highest, with four lesbian and three gay judges counted in the 2017 data. There are actually eight out judges on the bench due to lesbian Judge Teresa M. Caffese joining it in mid-December.

As the B.A.R. reported in January, Caffese's appointment maintains the number of gay and lesbian jurists on the local bench at its historic high of eight. Neither Caffese nor lesbian Judge Angela Bradstreet nor gay Judge Roger Chan drew opponents for their court seats on the June 5 primary ballot, so the trio will automatically be elected to six-year terms that begin in January 2019.

San Diego had the third highest number of LGBT judges, with two lesbians and four gay men serving on it, according to the latest report. In fourth place is San Bernardino, which now counts five LGBT judges on it due to the appointment in December of gay Judge Joel S. Agron. (The 2017 report showed there were one lesbian and two gay judges on the San Bernardino bench in addition to the bisexual jurist.)

Alameda County now stands in fifth place with its four out judges. In addition to Kolakowski there are two lesbian jurists and one gay judge on the East Bay court.

That makeup could change if retired Alameda County deputy public defender Karen Katz, who is bisexual, defeats lesbian Judge Tara M. Flanagan in their race on the June primary ballot. Flanagan won election to the court's #11 seat in June 2012.

The superior courts in Contra Costa, Orange, Riverside, and San Mateo counties each have one lesbian and one gay judge, while Santa Clara County has two lesbian judges. The courts in El Dorado and Fresno counties both have one lesbian judge, while the courts in Imperial and Mendocino counties each have one gay judge.

In its release last week, Brown's office for the first time identified Judge Marco D. Nunez as the first openly gay judge ever appointed to the Imperial County Superior Court. When Brown appoints the first lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender judge to a court in the state that is usually mentioned when he makes the appointment. But the announcement about Nunez's 2016 appointment made no mention of his sexual orientation.

The full 2017 judicial demographic report can be downloaded online at http://www.courts.ca.gov/13418.htm.

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