Editorial: Retain California justices

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday October 26, 2022
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Incoming California Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero, left, and Associate Justices Goodwin Liu, Martin Jenkins, and Joshua Groban face retention elections on the November 8 ballot. Photos: Courtesy CA courts
Incoming California Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero, left, and Associate Justices Goodwin Liu, Martin Jenkins, and Joshua Groban face retention elections on the November 8 ballot. Photos: Courtesy CA courts

Largely flying under the radar on the November 8 ballot are the retention elections for California Supreme Court and appellate court justices. It's important that voters retain all of them.

California Supreme Court

The California Supreme Court has definitely swung to the moderate/liberal side of the political pendulum since the old days when conservative justices dominated the bench and the LGBTQ community suffered some negative rulings, like during the fight for marriage equality. That has all changed as those justices have retired and governors, beginning with moderate Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, replaced them. Among Schwarzenegger's appointees was outgoing Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, whom he named in 2010 as the 28th chief justice of the state's high court. In July, Cantil-Sakauye announced that she would not seek another term and planned to retire in January, allowing Governor Gavin Newsom to name her successor.

In August, Newsom nominated state Supreme Court Associate Justice Patricia Guerrero to serve as chief justice. A first-generation Californian, Guerrero was the first Latina to serve on the California Supreme Court, Newsom's office stated in a news release. Later that month, the state's Commission on Judicial Appointments confirmed Guerrero as the next chief justice, and she will likely be approved by voters on the November 8 ballot; she would then become the first Latina to serve as California's chief justice. Guerrero's name is the only one that will appear for chief justice and there is no serious opposition to her elevation. Her time on the high court dates from March but, as a former appellate justice, she is well-qualified to serve as chief justice and the top administrator of the judicial branch.

(When Newsom nominated Guerrero to be chief justice, he also nominated Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kelli Evans, a Black queer woman, to replace her, but Evans has not yet had her confirmation hearing and will not appear on this year's ballot. Her hearing is scheduled for November 10, and she is likely to be confirmed.)

In addition to Guerrero, there are three other state Supreme Court justices on the ballot. Goodwin Liu was appointed by former governor Jerry Brown during his third term and sworn into office in 2011. He was first retained by voters in 2014 and is on the ballot again. Liu had not been a judge before joining the court; he was a law professor and associate dean at UC Berkeley Law. He has been a steady voice on the high court.

Associate Justice Joshua Groban was nominated by Brown at the end of his fourth term in 2018 and began serving on the high court in January 2019. Previously, he advised Brown on judicial appointments, legal policy, and legislative issues. According to the state Supreme Court's website, Groban advised Brown on the appointment of over 600 judges. Before joining Brown's administration, Groban worked in private practice where he specialized in complex civil litigation.

Finally, Associate Justice Martin Jenkins is facing his first retention vote. Newsom appointed Jenkins in 2020, and he is the first openly gay man to serve on the court and the third Black man to do so. Jenkins, a retired state appellate court justice, served as Newsom's judicial appointments secretary until the governor tapped him for the vacancy. It was a monumental appointment, as Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ rights group, noted at the time. Well-qualified, Jenkins' sitting on the high court also reflects the state's values and diversity.

California Court of Appeal Justice Therese Stewart. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

State appellate court
There are several justices from the California Court of Appeal, First District, up for retention. The First District serves residents in 12 Northern California counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano, and Sonoma.

In Division 2, there is Therese Stewart, a lesbian who previously was chief deputy city attorney to former city attorney Dennis Herrera and helped defend then-mayor Newsom's decision to allow same-sex couples to marry in San Francisco. She has served on the appellate court since 2014 when Brown appointed her. She became the first out female appellate justice in the state. Newsom recently announced that he has nominated Stewart to be presiding justice of her division. She is awaiting her confirmation hearing set for November 30, but in the meantime, voters should retain Stewart for another term.

In the First District's Division 3, there are four justices on the ballot. Alison Tucher, Ioana Petrou, and Victor A. Rodriguez all previously served as Alameda County Superior Court judges. Brown appointed Petrou, while Newsom appointed Tucher and Rodriguez. Justice Carin T. Fujisaki was appointed by Brown in 2018 and, prior to that, spent 28 years working at the state Supreme Court, where she served as principal attorney to Cantil-Sakauye.

In the First District's Division 4, Justice Tracie L. Brown is on the ballot. Brown appointed her in 2018. Prior to joining the appellate court, Brown served for five years on the San Francisco Superior Court. Jeremy M. Goldman was appointed by Newsom in June and this will be his first retention election. He previously served as co-chief of appellate litigation and as a deputy city attorney for government litigation at the San Francisco City Attorney's office.

In Division 5, Teri L. Jackson was appointed by Newsom in 2019 as an associate justice and in 2021 was elevated to presiding justice. She is a former San Francisco Superior Court judge who was appointed by former governor Gray Davis. She was the local court's first Black woman and served as its presiding judge.

Also in Division 5, Justice Gordon B. Burns is on the ballot. Brown appointed him in 2018. The court website stated that he spent much of his career as an attorney in the California Department of Justice, where he worked on a variety of matters. In December 2011, Brown appointed him undersecretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, an agency that employed 6,000 people and had a budget of $4.7 billion.

It's important that voters not overlook these important judicial retentions on their ballots.

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