Monday, June 12, 2006
Panel Confirms Suzukawa as Justice of Court of Appeal
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Steven C. Suzukawa was unanimously confirmed Friday to succeed retired Justice Daniel Curry as a member of Div. Four of this district’s Court of Appeal.
The Commission on Judicial Appointments, which for appointments from this district consists of Chief Justice Ronald M. George, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of Div. Three, approved the nomination following a hearing at the Ronald Reagan State Building.
The commission’s approval was unanimous. No opposition to Suzukawa surfaced during the hearing, and the Administrative Office of the Courts reported that it had received no comments adverse to the nominee.
Suzukawa, who was nominated in May by Gov. Schwarzenegger to fill the last remaining vacancy in Div. Four, was sworn in immediately following the hearing and said he would begin work at the court today.
“I’m ready to get started,” he said.
The justice said he has wrapped up most of his work at the Compton courthouse, where he has served since 1989, with only three pending sentencing matters that he will conclude in August.
Andrew Sweet, chair of the Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission, reported at the hearing that Suzukawa earned a rating of “well-qualified” from the commission at a June 12, 2005 evaluation meeting.
Under the JNE Commission’s rules, a rating of “well qualified” for an appellate judge nominee means the nominee possesses “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.”
Suzukawa was found to be mature, hardworking, bright, fair, accommodating, and highly respected, Sweet said. Further, the chair said, Suzukawa has a strong criminal law background and has earned the high praise of judicial officers at every level.
Los Angeles attorney Paul Takakjian and Presiding Justice Roger W. Boren of Div. Two, the administrative presiding justice for this district, testified on behalf of Suzukawa at the hearing.
Takakjian, who met Suzukawa in the 1980s when the two were deputy district attorneys in the Compton courthouse, said that over their 25 years of friendship, Suzukawa has demonstrated an “overarching sense of fairness and an unswerving dedication to even-handedness.” Takakjian attributed it to Suzukawa’s parents, who he said were subjected to the 1940s internment of persons of Japanese origin and taught their son the importance of treating people equally.
Boren told the commission that Suzukawa was a “natural” as an appellate judge. Quoting from a letter he sent to the governor last year, Boren told the commission that “Judge Suzukawa has performed all of the duties of an appellate justice for almost a year. His work has been superb. His intellect, legal acumen and judgment are exemplary.”
When Justice Reuben Ortega’s retirement at the end of 2004 created a vacancy in Div. One, Suzukawa proved himself a capable justice pro tem for several months, Boren said. Soon after Suzukawa finished his temporary service, another vacancy arose in Div. One as a result of Justice Michael G. Nott’s retirement, and Boren said he had to “plead” with Superior Court Presiding Judge William A. McLaughlin to allow another temporary appellate assignment for Suzukawa.
The presiding judge eventually “gave in,” Boren said, but on the condition that the assignment be for only two more months.
“He was a key judge at the Compton courthouse,” Boren told the MetNews after the hearing “and McLaughlin said he couldn’t afford to let him stay at the Court of Appeal.
After administering Suzukawa’s oath of office, Chief Justice Ronald M. George told him that “it was unusual to keep getting requests [from Boren] to keep assigning you here.”
The chief justice added that he “can’t imagine a better set of attributes” than those Suzukawa brings to the court.
“I’m really looking forward to this new adventure,” Suzukawa said after being sworn in.
Suzukawa, 52, was appointed to the Compton Municipal Court by then-Gov. George Deukmejian in 1989, and to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1992 by then-Gov. Pete Wilson.
Prior to his appointment to the bench, he worked briefly with the Law Offices of Lawrence Trygstad, and as a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney for nine years.
Suzukawa has undergraduate and law degrees from UCLA. While in law school, he worked for the California Teachers Association as a law clerk. He was admitted to the State Bar in 1979. He is a Republican.
He told the MetNews that he views his appointment as significant to people of color “to the extent that someone can use this appointment to see that with a little hard work and a little luck, you really can get anywhere.”
Following Suzukawa’s hearing, the commission also held confirmation hearings for Judge Steven J. Kane, appointed to fill a vacancy in the Fifth District and Judge Douglas P. Miller, appointed to fill a vacancy in Div. Two of the Fourth District. Both were unanimously confirmed.
Kane succeeds retired Justice Nickolas Dibiaso, and Miller replaces retired Justice James D. Ward.
Kane’s confirmation hearing was held before the chief justice, attorney general, and Presiding Justice James Ardaiz of the Fifth Appellate District.
Kane’s witnesses were Fresno Superior Court Presiding Judge Edward Sarkisian, Jr., Fifth District Court of Appeal Justice Brad R. Hill, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill of the Eastern District of California.
Both Sarkisian and Hill praised Kane and credited him with eliminating the backlog in Fresno County’s civil courts when he led the court as presiding judge. O’Neill, Kane’s friend of for 40 years and a colleague, said Kane was a man of “character, moral fiber, laughter and love.”
Sweet, again reporting for the JNE Commission, announced that the commission found Kane “exceptionally well qualified,” the highest rating possible.
The chief justice also lauded Kane. “It’s been a great pleasure to work with you, especially in your leadership capacity at Fresno Superior Court,” he said. “You have all the ingredients and indications of a superb appellate judge.”
Kane’s father, retired First District Court of Appeal Justice Robert F. Kane, administered the oath of office for his son.
“I will approach this new assignment with the same commitment to the rule of law as I have at the superior court,” Kane said, adding that he was not “self-made” and that many have helped him along the way.
Miller’s confirmation hearing was the last of the three conducted Friday, with Presiding Justice David G. Sills of the Fourth Appellate District, Div. Three comprising the commission along with the chief justice and attorney general.
Testifying on Miller’s behalf were Presiding Judge Sharon Waters of the Riverside Superior Court; Judge Lawrence W. Fry and retired Judge Robert Taylor of the Riverside Superior Court; and Brian Harnik, a partner in Indian Wells-based Roemer, Harnik & Nethery LLP.
Harnik, who was a colleague of Miller before he was appointed to the bench, testified that he was “good to the core” and catalogued his extensive involvement in community outreach and education.
Waters said that in her nine years of working with Miller, he exhibited a “love for all things law related and an all-consuming dedication to all aspects of administration of justice.” He knew intuitively that he had an obligation to be an excellent judge off the bench and not just when issuing decisions from the bench, she said.
William Kopeny, vice chair of the JNE Commission, said that the commission found Miller to be “well qualified.”
“I never imagined this. This has been a very humbling experience,” Miller said after being sworn in by the chief justice.
Miller, 53, was appointed to the Superior Court in 1995 by then-Gov. Wilson. He served as a judge pro tem for the Riverside Superior Court from 1985 to 1992, and practiced with the law office of Thomas T. Anderson from 1978 to 1995.
He earned his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University and his law degree from Pepperdine University.
Kane is 53 and has been a judge since 1992. Prior to his appointment by then-Gov. Wilson, he practiced with McCormick, Barstow, Sheppard, Wayte & Carruth from 1976 to 1992.
He graduated from the University of Notre Dame and has a law degree from Hastings College of the Law.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company