Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Schwarzenegger Advisor Warns Judges Not to Expect Any Additional Judicial Appointments This Year
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Gubernatorial Judicial Appointments Advisor John Davies told members of the California Judges Association Friday not to expect the appointment of new judges until early 2005.
Davies, speaking at the CJA’s convention in Monterey, said that while the process for vetting judicial applications is in place, it will be “January or February actually before any appointments are made.”
“We have just started.”
Davies said that though his title differs—advisor, rather than judicial appointments secretary, the designation he enjoyed under Gov. Pete Wilson—he will conduct the interviews of potential appointees to the trial bench and nominees for the appellate courts.
“I will do all the interviews,” he said.
The different title reflects the fact that he will pass his recommendations on to Legal Affairs Secretary Peter Siggins and Pat Clarey, the governor’s chief of staff. Under Wilson, he noted, he made recommendations directly to the governor.
The difference is that while he had worked for Wilson for many years, setting up a process for reviewing recommendations for the federal judiciary while Wilson was in the Senate, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger does not know him well yet, Davies explained.
“We are getting acquainted,” he commented, suggesting that his role could change as he and the governor gain familiarity with each other.
There are 47 judicial vacancies statewide, Davies said. The Los Angeles Superior Court has eight vacancies, with two more expected by the end of the month, and this district’s Court of Appeal has one.
Davies also said that Schwarzenegger has asked not to be informed of the political affiliation of the judicial applicants he considers until after he has made his selections. Davies told the CJA audience that he while he could not say Democrats would get as many appointments from Schwarzenegger as Republicans, he expects “more than in the past.”
He called Schwarzenegger’s view regarding partisanship “revolutionary,” saying the governor is seeking to establish a “merit system that does not have political overtones to it.”
“The governor doesn’t care about party registration.”
Davies noted that the governor’s first appointment to the appellate bench—the elevation of Justice Norman Epstein of this district’s Div. Four to presiding justice—was of a jurist registered as “decline to state.” The governor has also made two appointments to the trial bench, but both were of candidates already elected in March and scheduled to take office in January.
Davies described the vetting as a “two-step process” in which applications will first be reviewed by local screening committees he has already chosen. Except for the committees for Orange and Los Angeles counties, each committee covers more than one county, Davies said.
Those committees will conduct only a “limited evaluation,” Davies said, adding that he expects them to eliminate only a small proportion of the applicants.
“The standard is not really high,” he commented.
The names will then go simultaneously to the State Bar Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission and to county bar associations that have signed a contract agreeing to keep the process confidential. Those groups rate each candidate.
Davies said that so far only seven county bar groups—those of Los Angeles, Orange, Contra Costa, Monterey, Riverside, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties—have signed contracts. He said the Lake County Bar Association is expected to do so soon.
Some county bar groups, especially in smaller counties, are reluctant to participate in the process because multiple active members may be candidates for a single judicial opening, Davies explained.
The fact that Schwarzenegger—the first non-lawyer to serve as governor since Ronald Reagan—is not an attorney may impact the appointment process, Davies said.
While Schwarzenegger is “most comfortable” with applicants who support the death penalty, Davies said, he noted that Wilson appointed lawyers to the bench who opposed the death penalty but expressed willingness to enforce the law and said he expected Schwarzenegger to do the same.
He advised lawyers and judges seeking appointment to the bench or elevation to avoid submitting large numbers of recommendation letters, which he said only have the effect of “bogging down” the process. Instead, he said, they should send in five to 10 letters, including if possible testimonials from a court’s presiding judge, a district attorney, and a police chief.
Letters from persons personally known to the governor, Siggins, Clarey, or Davies are also likely to be helpful, the governor’s advisor said.
The “main difficulty” judicial hopefuls have is demonstrating adequate trial experience, Davies said. He suggested that lawyers whose resumes are deficient in that category try to compensate by doing “extensive pro tem work.”
Trial experience is valued “so that you know you don’t have to show them the way to the courthouse,” he added.
Davies denied that prosecutors have an edge in seeking judicial appointments, asserting that Wilson named as many civil practitioners as criminal lawyers to the bench, and that about a third of his appointees had “a material amount of both” kinds of experience.
While few if any appointments can be expected this year, Davies said, the state’s judicial training college can expect a full class for its program this summer.
“You’ll have plenty by then,” he said.
Davies’ presentation drew a much larger crowd at the CJA convention than a morning session on judicial elections challenges.
That presentation was moderated by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito and included Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dan Oki, who defeated three challengers in March, and Oki’s campaign consultant, Fred Huebscher.
Marin Superior Court Judge Michael B. Dufficy, who defeated two challengers this year after being targeted by activists for his family court decisions, also participated, but two other scheduled panelists were prevented by weather from flying to Monterey. They were Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Wesley and Hal Dash of his campaign consulting firm, Cerrell Associates Inc.
Oki and Wesley, then supervising judge and assistant supervising judge of the criminal courts, were targeted after Oki ordered the department which arraigns in-custody defendants to close at 4:30 p.m. after a busy holiday weekend.
The decision resulted in the release of some suspects, one of whom is alleged to have subsequently committed a murder.
Oki noted that the department had frequently remained open until late in the evenings to complete arraignments, incurring overtime costs for staff and contributing to the court’s budgetary crisis. In the wake of the incident, the problems have been largely resolved.
Oki, Dufficy and Huebscher said the details of responding to an election challenge must be tailored to the circumstances and the county. But all three agreed that a judge facing a challenge needs assistance from a campaign professional, and that the process is likely to be expensive.
Oki said he spent $122,000 to hang onto his seat, though he also said he was able to raise $154,000.
Dufficy said he spent $110,000 in fighting off the challenge, which came on the heels of a recall battle in which he spent $50,000 to insure that proponents did not collect enough signatures to get on the ballot.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company