CA appellate justice makes LGBT history

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Wednesday December 26, 2012
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Justice Jim Humes <br>(Photo: Courtesy Governor's Office)
Justice Jim Humes
(Photo: Courtesy Governor's Office)

San Francisco resident Jim Humes quietly made history this month when he took the oath of office to become an associate justice of the state's First District Court of Appeal's Division Four.

Humes, 53, is the first openly gay justice to be appointed to the California Court of Appeals.

After hearing testimony December 20 from Humes's colleagues inside the state Supreme Court's San Francisco courtroom, the three-person Commission on Judicial Appointments unanimously approved his nomination to the appellate bench.

"I am very honored and humbled to be here," Humes, whose mother was seated by his side during the hearing, told the commission. "I promise to follow my father's advice to work hard and to do the best I can. I also promise to be passionate about the cause of justice."

The proceedings happened to fall on the 10th anniversary of the death of his father, Don Humes. His mother, Shirley Humes, said she felt that her late husband was with the family that day and "would be so proud of him."

The Moline, Illinois resident added that during the hearing, "I was thinking he has always been a wonderful son. I am so proud of him."

The Lesbian and Gay Freedom Band surprised Humes, at the invitation of his husband, with a celebratory performance afterwards. Later in the day, at the state Capitol in Sacramento, Governor Jerry Brown presided over Humes's swearing-in ceremony.

Just prior to Thanksgiving Brown named Humes to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Patricia Sepulveda. He also named lesbian lawyer Paula S. Rosenstein to the San Diego County Superior Court.

It was the first time that Brown had appointed openly gay or lesbian people to court vacancies since returning to the governor's office in 2011. Humes's selection was hardly a surprise, though, as his name has long been floated for a state judgeship.

Earlier this year the Los Angeles Times reported that Humes likely would have been appointed to a court vacancy by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger prior to his leaving office. But Humes dropped out of contention to work for Brown on his gubernatorial staff.

Since January Humes has served as the governor's executive secretary for administration, legal affairs, and policy. Prior to that he had served as the chief deputy in the attorney general's office when Brown served as California's attorney general from 2007 to 2011.

The State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees determined in October that Humes would be "exceptionally well qualified," and that he "has everything it takes to be an associate justice," said Lara M. Krieger, the panel's vice chair.

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, made note of the occasion's LGBT historical significance in her remarks during last week's proceeding. Communities rarely have a say when a member is tapped to be "the first," noted Kendell, adding that sometimes the chosen person's actions can cause that community "to cringe just a little bit."

Yet in picking Humes to break through the LGBT community's glass ceiling in the state judiciary, the governor could not have found a better nominee, Kendell said.

"With John we are not only making history but making history with the finest possible choice," she said. "Our community and the state of California could do no better."

Having first joined the California Department of Justice in 1993, Humes served in multiple positions, including chief assistant of the civil division and senior assistant attorney general of the health, education, and welfare section.

He had a role in presenting the state's arguments in two marquee cases involving same-sex marriage. The first was known as In re Marriage Cases, in which then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office argued that voters had a right in 2000 to adopt Proposition 22, which defined marriages in California as between a man and a woman and was eventually struck down by the California Supreme Court.

The court's decision, in turn, led to Humes's involvement in the legal fights over Proposition 8, the 2008 ban against same-sex marriage adopted by California voters. This time he helped with Brown's briefing, first as attorney general then as governor, as to why the state would not defend the anti-gay measure in court.

California Solicitor General Manuel Medeiros noted how ironic it was for Humes, who married his partner of 15 years, attorney Joe Quinn, in 2008, to be involved in those cases. Yet it also showed Humes's ability to be impartial in judicial proceedings, Medeiros told the appointments commission, and was just one example of his "integrity" as a public official.

"He is a brilliant lawyer and a tough litigator," said Medeiros, who was a witness to the couple's marriage.

J. Anthony Kline, the senior presiding justice of the First Appellate District, Division Two, voted with Attorney General Kamala Harris and California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye to confirm Humes. He joked that the hearing could have been mistaken for a "bar mitzvah" due to the praise lavished on Humes.

Kline did ask Humes about his ability to be impartial on cases brought before his court by former colleagues in state government. Humes replied that he intends to recuse himself from any cases he "knew about or worked on" as well as litigation where "any reasonable person could question my impartiality."

Humes served in the Colorado Attorney General's office from 1984 to 1986 and again from 1987 to 1993. Humes was an associate at Banta Hoyt Banta Greene Hannen and Everall PC from 1986 to 1987 and at Jay Stuart Radetsky PC from 1983 to 1984.

He earned a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Denver, a Master of Social Science degree from the University of Colorado and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Illinois State University.

Humes will make $204,599 as an appellate justice.