Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

SF attorney up for judgeship


San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera recruited his number two, Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart, when she was a partner at Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Robertson and Falk, a prominent local law firm. Stewart is reportedly being vetted for a state appellate judgeship.
(Photo: Rick Gerharter)
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Therese Stewart, San Francisco's chief deputy city attorney, is reportedly being considered for a state appellate court seat. Should Governor Jerry Brown choose to appoint her, Stewart would become the first out lesbian judge to serve on a California Court of Appeal.

Last December San Francisco resident Jim Humes became the first openly gay justice to be appointed to the California Court of Appeal after Brown appointed him to become an associate justice of the state's First District Court of Appeal's Division Four.

Stewart, 56, is being vetted to possibly fill a vacancy on the First District Court of Appeal, according to the Recorder , a local legal newspaper that broke the news this week.

The article noted there are currently two open seats on the appellate court. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Steven Brick is currently serving as a pro tem associate justice on Division Two and is thought to be a contender for the permanent job, according to the paper.

It added that on the court's Division One, Associate Justice Sandra Margulies is serving as acting presiding justice following the retirement of Justice James Marchiano.

Having been recruited by City Attorney Dennis Herrera to join his legal team in 2002, Stewart two years later rose to national prominence when she was assigned to oversee the office's legal fight for marriage equality. She would go on to successfully argue for the right of same-sex couples to wed before the California Supreme Court, which overturned the state's anti-gay marriage statutes in 2008.

The court's ruling led to the ballot fight over and eventual voter passage that November of Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in the Golden State. She lost a second case before the state court seeking to overturn Prop 8 but did successfully argue it should not annul the some 18,000 marriages that had taken place prior to Election Day.

After two same-sex couples filed a federal lawsuit against the homophobic proposition, Herrera's office joined the case as an intervener and Stewart was part of the city attorney team that worked on it.

In June the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case on a technicality, allowing lower court rulings striking down Prop 8 to stand. Gay nuptials resumed in California in late June.

Stewart declined the Bay Area Reporter 's request for an interview Tuesday. In August 2008 she married her wife, attorney Carole Scagnetti, at a ceremony inside City Hall.

In August the American Bar Association named Stewart as one of the recipients of the 2013 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award. In 2009 California Lawyer named Stewart as one of its Attorneys of the Year.

Herrera issued a statement to the B.A.R. through his spokesman stating that the "bittersweet reality" of hiring "high-caliber legal talent" is that there are "competing demands" for his staff. Since 2006 three of his top deputies have been tapped to be state judges, while Deputy City Attorney Vince Chhabria's nomination by President Barack Obama to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California is currently pending before the Senate.

As for Stewart, the first person he hired after being elected back in 2001, Herrera stated that although he "would be disappointed not to have her by my side in the City Attorney's office, I recognize, too, that California's appellate court represents a rare professional opportunity and honor. Knowing Terry's skills, temperament, and remarkable breadth of legal expertise, I know she would be an extraordinary addition to the judiciary."

Asked for her reaction, National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell was unaware of the news until contacted by the B.A.R. Nonetheless, she enthusiastically endorsed seeing Stewart be appointed a judge.

"I think Terry would be amazing on the bench," Kendell stated in an email. "She is tireless, committed, and wicked smart. She is a hero in our movement and would bring honor to her role as a judge."

There is no guarantee that Brown will nominate Stewart for an appellate court seat. In 2006 gay attorney Michael Nava was one of five candidates for an open seat on the First District Court of Appeal, which is based in San Francisco, who was also vetted by the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation. Yet Nava was not selected by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.


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