Monday, December 12, 2005
Fellow Jurists Praise Selection of Corrigan to Supreme Court
Some Lawmakers Express Unhappiness That Choice to Succeed Janice Brown Is Not African American
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated First District Court of Appeal Justice Carol Corrigan to the California Supreme Court on Friday, deciding on a moderate Republican and former prosecutor to fill the post of conservative jurist Janice Rogers Brown.
“This is the best of the best that we have in the state,” Schwarzenegger said during a Capitol news conference called to introduce her.
If confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments at its Jan. 4 meeting in San Francisco, the 57-year-old Corrigan will fill a seat that has been vacant since Brown resigned in June after the U.S. Senate confirmed her to the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.
Court of Appeal justices have been filling in on a rotating basis since Brown left the court.
Brown was the only black on the seven-member court, prompting speculation that Schwarzenegger would name another black to maintain the court’s ethnic balance. He also was said to have closely considered Vance Raye, a black Republican sitting on the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento.
‘Best for California’
Another African American, U.S. District Judge Morrison England of the Eastern District of California, withdrew his name from consideration by the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation.
Schwarzenegger said his only concern in naming a successor was finding the most qualified person and making a decision that “was best for California.” He praised Corrigan as being someone of “unimpeachable character.”
“Justice Corrigan is careful, thoughtful, quick-witted and brings a deliberate, detail-oriented approach to the law,” he said. “She will bring honor to California’s high court and serve the people with dignity and integrity.”
The nomination also drew praise Friday from a veteran appellate justice and from one of Corrigan’s potential colleagues on the high court.
“The California Supreme Court is the most competent appellate court in America,” Presiding Court of Appeal Justice Paul A. Turner of this district’s Div. Five commented. “It will remain that way after she is confirmed. That speaks volumes about the wisdom and intelligence of the governor’s appointment.”
Corrigan is a “really experienced judge,” Turner said, and drew a tremendous amount of praise for her work chairing the Judicial Council Task Force on Jury Instructions. The group spent six years reviewing the standard jury instructions and proposing revisions.
The end product, approved by the Judicial Council for use in all California trial courts, has been described as the most comprehensive set of “plain-English” jury instructions used anywhere in the nation. As an oft-cited example, the instruction “Failure of recollection is common. Innocent misrecollection is not uncommon,” was changed to “People often forget things or make mistakes in what they remember.”
The goal, Corrigan once explained to a reporter, was to rid the instructions of confusing “Latinisms and references to Norman French,” while retaining legal accuracy and not being “reduced to the art of Beavis and Butthead.”
Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin, who has known Corrigan since she was a prosecutor in Alameda County and served with her on the Superior Court there, as well as on the Court of Appeal, said he “couldn’t be more pleased” with the appointment.
Working with Corrigan was “one of the highlights of my tenure as a judge,” he said, adding that he was “delighted that I will have that pleasure again.”
The nominee, he explained, brings “a combination of many attributes” to the job, particularly an ability to explain complex concepts. As for her philosophy, he said she did not bring an agenda to judging and that while he was reluctant to describe her judicial philosophy, he considered her moderate in the sense of “not being influenced by any of the extremes.”
He noted that Corrigan had testified in his behalf at two judicial confirmation hearings, first when he was elevated from associate justice of the Court of Appeal to presiding justice and again when he was nominated to the Supreme Court, and said he’d be “happy” to return the favor if asked.
Several black leaders criticized Schwarzenegger’s decision not to replace Brown with another black jurist. State Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, chairman of the California Legislative Black Caucus, said Corrigan’s appointment means the court will not accurately reflect California’s ethnic makeup “and therefore is lacking in the much needed diversity to make accurate rulings.”
Alice Huffman, head of the NAACP in California, said a black justice would provide “a perspective that nobody else can deliver for us in many of the cases. ... We need both African American and Latino justices on the bench. There’s always a void whenever we’re not there.”
Corrigan is a graduate of Holy Names College in Oakland and Hastings College of the Law. She was a deputy district attorney from 1975 to 1987, then served on the Oakland-Piedmont-Emeryville Municipal Court and the Alameda Superior Court before then-Gov. Pete Wilson tapped her for the Court of Appeal.
Court watchers had predicted the governor would tap Corrigan or Raye because of their party affiliation, seniority and judicial philosophies. The pressure on Schwarzenegger to name a conservative to the bench had grown in recent days, after he angered many Republicans by appointing Susan Kennedy, a longtime Democratic activist, to be his chief of staff.
But on Friday, the governor said politics played no role in his decision to nominate Corrigan.
“That’s the last concern I have,” Schwarzenegger said, responding to a reporter’s question. “You don’t worry what is best about for the Republicans or you don’t worry about anyone who is concerned about Susan Kennedy or anything like that. ... She is really the most qualified for this job.”
Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, a conservative group that has been sharply critical of Schwarzenegger’s appointment of Kennedy as his chief of staff, said he was relieved the governor picked a Republican for the court. On Thursday, the group asked the state Republican Party to reconsider its endorsement of Schwarzenegger in next year’s re-election bid.
“Obviously, our membership would have been closer to Vance Raye,” he said. “He seemed to be the more conservative of the two. ... We’ll have to see how she rules on cases.”
Corrigan spoke briefly, saying the cornerstone of her judicial philosophy is that “the law doesn’t belong to judges; it belongs to people.”
She declined to answer a question about same-sex marriage, an issue that is likely to come before the state Supreme Court, and said the topic never arose in her conversations with Schwarzenegger.
The last vacancy on the state’s highest court was filled in 2001 by Carlos Moreno, the court’s only Democrat and a Hispanic who replaced Justice Stanley Mosk upon his death. If Corrigan is confirmed, the court will consist of two white men, a Hispanic man, an Asian man, an Asian woman and two white women.
Assemblyman Jerome Horton, D-Inglewood, a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, supported Schwarzenegger’s selection of a woman but said it also is important to maintain a racial balance on the court. But he noted that the court’s departing justice, Brown, disappointed many blacks with her decisions.
“I think it’s wise to have an ethnic balance on the court of the land, but a person’s judicial philosophy takes precedence over that balance,” Horton said. “However, Justice Janice Rogers Brown’s (was) inconsistent with the views of the majority of California. Just because you wear the same colors doesn’t mean you’re on the same team.”
The Commission on Judicial Appointments, which as the final say on the selection, consists of Chief Justice Ronald M. George, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, and Presiding Court of Appeal Justice Joan Klein, of this district’s Court of Appeal.
The Administrative Office of the Courts, which provides staff support for the commission, announced that it will accept comments on the nomination, as well as requests to speak at the hearing, until Dec. 27 at 5 p.m. Commission rules require that those wishing to speak submit the request in writing with a summary of their proposed testimony, which is usually limited to five minutes.
The commission’s address is Commission on Judicial Appointments, c/o Chief Justice of California, Supreme Court of California, 350 McAllister Street, San Francisco, California 94102, Attention: Ms. Gale Tunnell, Secretary to the Commission.
Corrigan, who lives alone in Oakland, is a Catholic who grew up in the San Joaquin Delta port city of Stockton, where her father was a journalist and held a variety of other positions with The Record newspaper. Her mother was a librarian.
She has joined the appellate court in issuing several conservative decisions but also is seen as a moderate.
In 1997, she joined an opinion reversing the convictions of several abortion activists who had been arrested for violating a court order while protesting outside an abortion clinic in Vallejo. In her ruling, Corrigan said the government had failed to prove that the protesters were part of a raucous group that had been barred from picketing outside the clinic.
In one of her most noted decisions in 2001, Corrigan ruled that local governments can seize the vehicles of people suspected of dealing drugs or soliciting prostitutes from a car.
In 2003, she joined the court in reversing the murder convictions of five defendants accused of killing a manager at Fremont’s Wintec Industries in 1998. The appeals court said the suspects were denied a fair trial because the trial judge refused to admit testimony that a sixth person was actually to blame for the killing.
At the news conference Friday, she said her nomination was a tremendous honor and thanked Schwarzenegger for the consideration.
“I will do my very best to live up that expression of your confidence,” she said.Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company