Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, March 5, 2007


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Study: Minorities, Women Each Nearly 30 Percent of State Judiciary


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


The California judiciary is more than 27 percent female and close to 30 percent non-white, according to statistics released Friday by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

The figures come from the first official accounting of demographic data provided by state judges to the AOC under legislation enacted last year. SB 56, which also created 50 new judgeships in various counties, requires collection of such data by the judicial branch with respect to sitting judges and by the executive with respect to judicial applicants.

Those provisions were added to the bill after some lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, questioned whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had appointed enough Asian American, African American, and Latino judges.The governor countered that if the numbers of minority appointees were low, it was a reflection of the applicant pool and the ratings of the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation .

Still, the number of Schwarzenegger’s minority appointments exceeds the percentage of eligible minority attorneys who are members of the State Bar, his office emphasized. “We’re doing everything we can to diversify our applicant pool,” Schwarzenegger spokesperson Sabrina Lockhart said.

Schwarzenegger Appointees

 Since taking office in November 2003, Schwarzenegger has appointed 209 judges. About 19 percent, or 39 judges, were Latinos, African Americans or Asians. State Bar membership is almost a combined 11 percent of Latinos, African Americans or Asians. A 2001 State Bar report said 17 percent of California’s judiciary was comprised of minorities.

   For women, the percentage of Schwarzenegger appointments compared to the Bar population was nearly equal. Schwarzenegger appointed 66 women, or almost 32 percent of his total number of appointments, the governor’s office said. Women equal about 34 percent of the State Bar’s membership.

Under SB 56, racial and ethnic data is collected on a voluntary basis and individual judges’ responses are not disclosed.

Friday’s report shows that as of 1,598 judges sitting in California as of the beginning of last month, 1,165, or 72.9 percent, are male and 433, or 27.1 percent, are female.

As to race and ethnicity, 70.1 percent of judges are “White Only,” 6.3 percent are “Hispanic or Latino Only,” 4.4 percent are “Asian Only,” 4.4 percent are “Black or African American Only,” and 4.4 percent are of “More Than One Race.” Two judges reported that they are “American Indian or Alaska Native Only,” two that they are “Pacific Islander Only,” and three that they are “Some Other Race Only.”

Nearly 10 percent of the state’s judges—all but one of them from the trial courts—did not respond.

Statistical Figures

Broken down by court, the figures show that while three of the seven state Supreme Court justices—42.9 percent—are women, the percentages drop to 30.5 percent on the appellate courts and 26.8 percent on the superior courts.

On the Court of Appeal, this district has the highest percentage of women, 37.5 percent, while the Fresno-based Fifth District has the smallest at 20 percent.

Of the 428 Los Angeles Superior Court judges, 130, or 30.4 percent, are women.

The only counties with 10 or more judges that have a higher percentage of women are San Francisco, where half of the 50 judges are women; Contra Costa, where 15 of 33, or 45.5 percent are female; Marin, with four women among its 10 judges, and San Mateo, where nine of 26 judges, or 34.6 percent, are women.

Yuba Superior Court, where three of the five judges are women, is the only court in the state with a female-majority bench.

At the opposite end of the scale are a number of counties where fewer than 20 percent of the judges are women. Among those with more than 10 judges, Santa Barbara sits at the bottom, with one woman of 18 judges; followed by Kern, with three women out of 33 judges; Fresno, with five among its 35 judges; Riverside, with nine women out of 49 judges, and Solano and Tulare, each with three women out of 16 judges.

Fresno and Riverside are two of the four counties that are the primary recipients of new judgeships under SB 56. The others are Sacramento, where women currently hold 14 of 52 trial court positions, or 26.9 percent; and San Bernardino, with 14 women among 63 judges.

As to the ethnic breakdown, the figures for Los Angeles County, where 382 of 428 judges responded, show that there are 262 white judges, 35 Hispanics, 30 blacks, 28 Asians, 23 of more than one race, two Pacific Islanders, one American Indian and one other.

Large counties with the least diverse benches include Kern, with one Asian, one Hispanic, and one Asian judge, and Riverside, with one African American, one Latino, and one multi-racial judge. Riverside also had the largest non-response rate in the state, with 18 of its 49 judges, or more than 36 percent, not providing racial data.

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George said the state needs a diverse bench.

   “The diversity of California is one of its greatest strengths,” he said in a statement. “Having individuals who reflect that diversity serve on the bench helps reinforce the important message that ours is a system open to all and that individuals drawn from any segment of society can preside fairly and objectively over all claims involving Californians from every background.”

Marguerite Downing, an African American deputy public defender in Los Angeles County and a member of the State Bar Board of Governors, said “the bench needs to look like the state, not the numbers of those in practice.”

She said Schwarzenegger and most governors rarely appoint public defenders, meaning a whole slew of potentially qualified attorneys aren’t getting tapped or aren’t even bothering to apply.

“There are over 800 lawyers in my office,” she said. “The view is, we don’t get appointed so folks are not motivated to apply.”


Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company