Panel confirms out CA appellate justices Earl, Martinez

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday July 10, 2023
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California Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero, left, administers the oath of office to Third District Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Laurie Earl, who was joined by her wife and their two sons. Photo: Screengrab via court website
California Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero, left, administers the oath of office to Third District Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Laurie Earl, who was joined by her wife and their two sons. Photo: Screengrab via court website

A judicial review panel has confirmed another gay man to serve on the state's appellate courts and elevated a lesbian appeal court justice to preside over her bench. Its decisions Monday morning mean, for the moment, there are now seven known LGBTQ appellate justices in California, with three serving in presiding justices positions.

The Commission on Judicial Appointments voted 3-0 to confirm Laurie M. Earl, who sits on the state's Third District Court of Appeal, as its presiding justice. She is the first lesbian and member of the LGBTQ community to serve in the position and only the second woman to do so.

"I enjoy court administration and look forward to getting back into that, both locally and on a statewide level," said Earl at her July 10 confirmation hearing. She also noted that she cares "very much about access to justice, and I care very much about our court and our colleagues."

Shortly after voting to confirm Earl in the supreme court's San Francisco courtroom, the review panel also voted 3-0 to confirm Gonzalo Martinez, a gay man, as an associate justice of the Second District Court of Appeal, Division Seven. He had been serving as Governor Gavin Newsom's deputy judicial appointments secretary and becomes the second gay appellate justice in the Second District, as he is serving alongside Associate Justice Luis A. Lavin.

"It is an honor to stand here before you. This is the same courtroom where I argued my first appeal seven years ago," noted Martinez during his confirmation hearing, which coincided with the birthday of his father who was in attendance.

Newsom had nominated Martinez and Earl for their judicial posts earlier this year. A commission that evaluates judicial nominees found Earl to be exceptionally well qualified to be presiding justice of her court and found Martinez to be well qualified to become a justice.

Their confirmations follow that of gay Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division One Associate Justice David Rubin in June. The former San Diego Superior Court judge will briefly serve alongside lesbian Associate Justice Marsha G. Slough, who will be retiring from the Fourth District in August.

Earl now joins out justices James M. Humes and Therese Stewart, both San Francisco residents, as presiding justices of state appellate courts. Humes is the administrative presiding justice of the First Appellate District, while Stewart is the presiding justice of the First District Court of Appeal's Division Two.

Passing on the gavel to Earl is Justice Ronald Robie, who had been serving as the acting presiding justice following the retirement of justice Vance W. Raye. Robie joined California Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero and Attorney General Rob Bonta in voting to confirm Earl's elevation to preside over her court where she has served since 2022 following Newsom's nomination of her to the appellate bench.

Robie noted that Earl is "superbly qualified for this job."

A former Sacramento County Superior Court judge, Earl is the Third District's first known justice from the LGBTQ community. Before becoming a judge, Earl had been a senior assistant inspector general at the California Office of Inspector General from 2004 to 2005 and a deputy district attorney at the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office from 1995 to 2004.

Speaking on Earl's behalf at Monday's hearing, lesbian former Sacramento County district attorney Anne Marie Schubert noted the women have been best friends for more than half a century.

Schubert called Earl "brilliant, thoughtful, patient, compassionate, fair and, perhaps above all, she treats everyone with dignity and respect." She added that, "as a student of the law, Justice Earl's insatiable desire to learn will only undoubtedly prove to be indispensable as she leads the court."

Justice Luis R. Mauro, Earl's colleague on the Third Appellate bench, noted a female justice hasn't led it since the retirement of Annette Abbott Adams in 1952. Adams became the state's first female appellate justice in 1942, "so it is time," said Mauro, adding of Earl, "I can say, without hesitation, she will be an outstanding presiding justice."

Presiding Justice Lee Smalley Edmon of the Second Appellate Court's Division 3 said Earl was the perfect person to take on a position that, at times, can feel like "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" at Disneyland. The women had first met in 2010 when presiding over their respective district courts, Earl in Sacramento and Edmon in Los Angeles, and later served together on a working group tasked with updating how the state funds its various courts that Earl led and won an award for doing so.

"She is not just an exceptional leader and jurist but an exceptional person," said Edmon.

Earl, who grew up in San Jose before moving to Modesto, earned her law degree from the Lincoln Law School of Sacramento. Joining her as she was sworn in as presiding justice Monday was her wife and partner for more than 30 years, Jody Cooperman, and their adult sons Josh and Sam.

Tearing up as she introduced her family, Earl thanked Cooperman for believing in her when she "didn't know where I was going or what I was doing." She also praised her children for teaching her "everyday the value of acceptance, honesty, and integrity."

Then she joked to her colleagues who had come for the ceremony, "let's get to work."

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero, left, administers the oath of office to Gonzalo Martinez, who will serve as an associate justice on the Second District Court of Appeal, Division Seven. Photo: Screengrab via court website  

Martinez hearing
For Martinez's hearing Second District Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert joined Guerrero and Bonta in confirming him to the appellate bench. Martinez lives in Oakland's Trestle Glen neighborhood with his husband and partner of 20 years, Raul A. Escatel, a distinguished tax attorney.

Standing next to Martinez as he took his judicial oath Monday was Escatel along with Martinez's parents and his two godsons. He succeeds retired justice Laurie D. Zelon.

"The rights and opportunities all of us enjoy in this great country and great state are not to be taken for granted," said Martinez, adding that as a judge he plans to continue to "give back to others, to ensure the rule of law is followed, to do what is just, and to continuously strive to move our state forward."

Manny P. Alvarez, a lawyer and founding principal of BridgeCounsel Strategies LLC, has considered Martinez a mentor and friend since they first met in 2006 over an hourslong lunch during his last year of law school and Alvarez was a junior associate at the law firm he was working for at the time.

Alvarez praised Martinez for his "humility and generosity of spirit," as well as his "commitment to the practice and rule of law." He recalled after their first meeting "thinking to myself he is incredibly smart and humble, and I really think he should sit on the bench someday."

Laurie J. Helper, a partner at Greines, Martin, Stein and Richland LLP who hired Martinez to work at their former law firm in 2007, called it "one of the best decisions I have made." She described him as "unflappable, collegial, deliberate, realistic, modest, and patient. In short, he is judicious and he will make a superb addition to the Second District Court of Appeal."

Gay California Supreme Court Justice Martin J. Jenkins, who was Martinez's superior in the governor's office, also praised his former colleague as being incredibly well qualified to serve as a judge. He noted that he had been hired "on the spot" to work in Newsom's administration because of his "superb writing skills, analytical skills, superior intellect" and "broad legal experience" and adeptness at handling both civil and criminal cases in his career, which Jenkins noted is a rarity in lawyers.

"Suffice it to say Governor Newsom has made an inspired choice in nominating Gonzalo Martinez to serve on the court of appeal," said Jenkins, who was appointed by Newsom as the first out LGBTQ member of the state's highest court.

Alluding to the recent federal Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action in college admissions, Jenkins refuted the argument that diversity shouldn't matter, particularly when it comes to the judicial bench.

"Some people suggest that diversity is a concept whose time has gone by," said Jenkins, who is Black. "If you look at this audience and look at his family members and see their pride in what is happening today, and the foothold they know they have in the judicial system because one of their own is going to be a member of the appellate court, you know diversity matters."

Martinez grew up the oldest of four children in San Joaquin Valley where his non-English speaking immigrant parents worked as farm laborers. He lost a sister to leukemia, having translated for his parents during her doctor appointments.

The first in his family to attend college, Martinez graduated from Harvard in 1998 and later earned his law degree from the Ivy League school in 2003. Accepted into the bar a year later, Martinez would go on to be a partner in the Appellate and Supreme Court Practice Group at Squire Patton Boggs from 2007 to 2017 and in 2019.

In 2019, he went to work for Newsom after spending two years as a deputy solicitor general in the California Attorney General's office. During his time in the administration Martinez played a hand in the appointment of 400 judges in California, helping to diversify the state bench.

Bonta thanked Martinez "as you close one chapter of your life and start another chapter." He praised him for being "part of a historic reshaping of California's bench in a way that is needed and important."

Having earned a bachelor's and master's degrees in English, Gonzalez is known for his writing expertise in legal briefings. Guerrero made note of it in her remarks during his confirmation hearing, saying she couldn't recall seeing letters in support of another judicial applicant include "so many glowing remarks about someone's writing."

She added that she is "looking forward to reading your opinions. Not that they would be appealed," which prompted laughter from those in the courtroom.

As an attorney, Gonzalez said he made it a point to consider both sides of legal arguments in the cases he argued, as well as what the broader implications were of the arguments he made. He now looks forward to doing so as an appellate justice.

"I am excited to be able to focus the rest of my career on finding what I believe is the right result, as opposed to advocating for a particular view," said Martinez.

Both Earl and Martinez are Democrats. The compensation for each is $264,542.

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