Tuesday, January 3, 2006
JNE Commission Rates Corrigan ‘Well Qualified’ to Replace Brown on California Supreme Court
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation has rated First District Court of Appeal Justice Carol A. Corrigan “well qualified” to replace former Justice Janice Rogers Brown on the California Supreme Court, a document released Friday shows.
The rating is the second-highest of four used by the commission, which also rates bench candidates “exceptionally well qualified,” “qualified,” and “unqualified.” Brown received an unqualified rating when then-Gov. Pete Wilson named her to the high court in 1996.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated Corrigan Dec. 9 to fill the vacancy on the seven-member court created when Brown resigned after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The JNE Commission, members of which are appointed by the State Bar Board of Governors, provides its evaluations of applicants for the state trial and appellate bench to the governor. It told Schwarzenegger it had found Corrigan well qualified after reviewing her extensive record as an Alameda County prosecutor and a trial and appellate jurist.
In a Dec. 15 letter to Chief Justice Ronald M. George in his capacity as chair of the Commission on Judicial Appointments, which is to decide tomorrow whether to confirm Corrigan, JNE Commission Chair Todd D. Irby wrote:
“The Commission’s report to the Governor’s office stated that Justice Corrigan is brilliant, decisive, articulate, courteous, compassionate, collegial and scholarly bench officer with a solid grasp of varied and complex criminal and civil law issues. She is held in great esteem by attorneys, as well as fellow judges, and is fair and well-balanced. She is highly respected as an indefatigable worker who is always thoroughly prepared, and willing to take on additional duties when requested.”
Irby, a Newport Beach attorney, said the letter was being provided in response to George’s request. It was made public by the chief justice Friday.
The panel’s vetting of Corrigan, 57, was to guide Schwarzenegger in deciding on whether he should nominate her to fill the court’s first vacancy in four years. Irby said the panel evaluated Corrigan on Nov. 1.
Legislative confirmation of Corrigan is not required. If, as expected, her nomination is confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments tomorrow, she is expected to be sworn in immediately.
In addition to George, the Commission on Judicial Appointments includes Attorney General Bill Lockyer and, for the purposes of considering a high court nomination, the state’s senior Court of Appeal presiding justice, Joan Dempsey Klein of this district’s Div. Three.
Irby noted in his letter to George that, under the JNE Commission’s rules, a rating of “well qualified” means that Corrigan was “found to possess ‘qualities and attributes considered to be worthy of special note as indicative of a superior fitness to perform the appellate judicial function with a high degree of skill, effectiveness and distinction.’”
“The summary of the report to the Governor’s office also stated that during her interview the candidate demonstrated her intelligence, passionate reverence for the rule of law, introspective nature, humility, candor, and sense of humor, as well as a keen awareness of wide-ranging criminal and civil law-related issues. In light of her reputation in the legal community as a thorough, meticulous, tireless, fair, and no nonsense bench officer the Commission concluded that Justice Corrigan possesses the qualities required to serve as an Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court with high distinction.”
Irby noted in the letter that he plans to appear at tomorrow’s hearing to present the JNE Commission’s report to the Commission on Judicial Appointments.
George also disclosed Friday that the Commission on Judicial Appointments had received 23 letters from the public regarding Corrigan’s nomination, mostly from judges and attorneys who gave her favorable marks. A disgruntled former litigant who appeared before the First District urged the commission to reject her nomination.
Schwarzenegger, when tapping her, told reporters that Corrigan was “the best of the best that we have in the state.”
Lockyer also submitted to the appointments commission on Friday anonymous interviews with judges and attorneys. Some gave Corrigan high grades, while others said they were more skeptical.
One anonymous prosecutor wrote that Corrigan, as an appellate judge “takes an independent approach to law when it is not appropriate.” Another anonymous attorney said she did not exhibit “much depth or reasoning.”
Corrigan was born in Stockton. Her mother was a librarian and father a journalist at the Stockton Record. The Republican has left a trail of rulings highlighting her judicial thinking, which veers from conservative to moderate.
In 2001, Corrigan ruled that local governments can seize vehicles of people suspected of dealing drugs or soliciting prostitutes from a car. That same year, she reversed a Contra Costa County sexual assault conviction on grounds an expert for the prosecution guided the jury to the conclusion that the defendant “was guilty because he fit the profile.”
In another opinion, Corrigan joined the majority in 1997 in reversing the convictions of violating a court order for several abortion protesters at a Vallejo clinic. The majority said the government did not prove the protesters were part of a raucous group barred from picketing the clinic.
In February, Corrigan joined a three-judge opinion upholding a Department of Motor Vehicles rule allowing the suspension of a motorist’s driving privileges for declining an alcohol test. The opinion said police did not have to prove that the person was operating the vehicle at the time it was stopped.
Two years ago, she joined in reversing the murder convictions of five defendants, ruling the suspects were denied a fair trial because a judge precluded them from fingering a sixth suspect before the jury.
If Corrigan is confirmed, the court will consist of six Republicans and one Democrat.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company