LGBT groups decry anti-gay judge pick
by Matthew S. Bajko
LGBT rights groups are decrying the nomination of a former state senator and attorney general candidate with a dismal gay rights voting record to a California appellate court seat.
Equality California, the statewide LGBT lobbying group, and Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, an LGBT legal group, are both criticizing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to appoint Charles S. Poochigian as an associate justice of the Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District in Fresno. He fills the vacancy created by the death of Justice Thomas A. Harris.
Poochigian, 60, is a Central Valley Republican who served in the Legislature, first as an assemblyman then senator, between 1994 and 2006. During his time as a state lawmaker, Poochigian earned a zero rating from EQCA for his opposition to LGBT legislation.
He also opposed voter initiatives legalizing medical marijuana. During the attorney general race in 2006, Poochigian's campaign declined to answer the Bay Area Reporter's questions about his stances on such issues as same-sex marriage.
In a statement issued to the B.A.R. last week after news of the court appointment, EQCA said it was disappointed by the governor's decision. EQCA noted that as a senator, Poochigian opposed every major LGBT bill, including: AB 1001, which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation; AB 537, which protected LGBT students from harassment and violence in public schools; and AB 25, which established the most basic rights and responsibilities for same-sex domestic partners.
"Mr. Poochigian's voting record on LGBT issues in the California Legislature was abysmal. He consistently scored 0 percent on EQCA's legislative scorecards," stated EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors. "Having him on the bench will put the rights of LGBT Californians in jeopardy."
BALIF Co-Chair Dan Dean also issued a statement saying that the legal group was "profoundly disappointed" at Schwarzenegger's appointing him to the $204,599-a-year judicial post.
"Appointing a state legislator who never cast a single vote to benefit LGBT citizens is a slap in the face to our community. This is especially true in light of the lack of any out LGBT appellate court judges on California courts," stated Dean. "We are so reliant upon the courts to preserve and articulate our rights as LGBT Californians, not just in marriage equality but in housing and employment discrimination, prosecution of hate crimes, etc. We need appellate court judges who understand and support our community."
Prior to winning public office, Poochigian worked for two GOP governors: as Pete Wilson's appointments secretary from 1991 to 1994; and as George Deukmejian's chief deputy appointments secretary from 1988 to 1990.
Since 2007 he has worked as an attorney with the Fresno-based law firm Dowling, Aaron and Keeler. Poochigian earned a Juris Doctorate degree from Santa Clara University School of Law and a Bachelor of Science degree from California State University, Fresno.
The Commission on Judicial Appointments will hold a public meeting Thursday, September 24 to consider Poochigian's appointment. The three-person body consists of state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George; Attorney General Jerry Brown, who defeated Poochigian in the 2006 election; and Fifth Appellate District Presiding Justice James A. Ardaiz.
The confirmation hearing will begin at 2 p.m. in the Supreme Court courtroom inside the Earl Warren State Building at 350 McAllister Street in San Francisco.
Anyone wishing to comment about the appointment – or testify the day of the hearing – must submit their statement and/or request by 5 p.m. Thursday, September 17 to the Commission on Judicial Appointments c/o Chief Justice of California, Supreme Court of California, 350 McAllister Street, San Francisco, California, 94102, Attention: Ms. AhMoi Kim, secretary to the Commission.