Tuesday, July 24, 2007
San Bernardino Judge Chosen Despite Low JNE Rating
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Elia V. Pirozzi was appointed to the bench by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger despite earning a “not qualified” rating by the Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission, the State Bar of California disclosed yesterday.
Pirozzi, who currently sits in the Chino courthouse, was named May 23 to succeed now-retired Judge Thomas Glasser.
Prior to his appointment, Pirozzi was vetted by the JNE Commission, a statutorily-established State Bar agency tasked with evaluating all judicial appointment candidates under consideration by the governor, and then submitting its non-binding rating and recommendation to his office. Candidates are rated either “not qualified,” “qualified,” “well qualified,” or “exceptionally well qualified.”
The commission, comprised of attorneys and public members, gave Pirozzi the lowest possible rating.
Although the commission’s findings are confidential, the State Bar Board of Governors may release a candidate’s JNE rating when he or she is appointed despite being graded “not qualified.” In response to the JNE Commission’s request, the board voted at its meeting last Friday, in closed session, to publicly release Pirozzi’s rating after notifying the judge.
Speaking for the governor and his judicial appointments secretary, Sharon Majors-Lewis, Press Secretary Aaron McLear defended Pirozzi’s appointment in an e-mail to the MetNews:
“Judge Pirozzi is qualified to serve in this position—he [has] been serving as a judge pro tem over the past year, a position that he was selected for by his peers in the legal community. He has practiced law for nearly two decades in the Inland Empire, which has given him strong community ties and a vast knowledge of the pressing issues in San Bernardino.”
Real Estate Background
Pirozzi, 49, was admitted to the State Bar in 1989. Prior to his appointment, he was in private practice specializing in real estate law. From 1990 to 1991, he was a lawyer for the Law Offices of Robert E. Weiss.
In 1991, he became the president/CEO of Westprop Real Estate Corporation, which he co-founded that year with his wife, Diane L. Pirozzi. The company, presently run by Diane Pirozzi, joined Coldwell Banker as an affiliate office in 2005 and is now known as Coldwell Banker Western Properties, located in Ontario.
Pirozzi earned his law degree from Southwestern University, and a master’s degree in environmental and international and comparative law from the University of San Diego, where he graduated cum laude. He holds an undergraduate degree from California State University, Northridge.
With respect to community service, he has been involved in the Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana Chambers of Commerce, the Mt. San Antonio Council, and founded the Community Action Legal Institute. He has been a board of directors member for the California Building Industry Association and National Association of Home Builders. In addition, he has served on the advisory board for KVCR-TV Channel 24, Inland Empire’s public broadcasting station, and the board of directors for an organization called Camp Fire Boys and Girls.
A Republican, Pirozzi made unsuccessful runs for Congress in 1998, 1999 and 2000, and the state Assembly in 2004.
Calls to his courtroom yesterday were referred to San Bernardino Superior Court Presiding Judge Larry Allen, who commented through a spokesperson:
“The appointments are made by the Governor’s Office and we do not comment on the evaluation process they use when they appoint judges.”
Allen declined to remark on Pirozzi’s abilities on the bench.
In addition to the JNE Commission, the Judicial Evaluation Committee of the San Bernardino County Bar Association submits recommendations to the governor concerning all judicial applicants in the county. The local committee—comprised of representatives of the county’s District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, private criminal defense bar, and civil attorneys—collects information about each applicant’s background and reputation and applies a rating system akin to the JNE scheme.
Local Practitioner’s Response
Attorney Mike Schaefer, who chairs the local committee, told the MetNews he would not disclose the rating he and his colleagues gave Pirozzi, but spoke in his capacity as an individual attorney.
“As a member of the bar here, it’s my belief that I would like to see always the best qualified individuals appointed to the bench,” he said. “Without knowing what the basis for the [JNE] recommendation was, it’s impossible to comment on it. I don’t know this judge personally, so I can’t make much comment on whether or not should be on the bench or not on the bench.”
JNE’s vetting process includes checking all information in each judicial candidate’s “Personal Data Questionnaire,” and obtaining confidential comments from hundreds of lawyers and judges who both know the candidate personally and are included in a random list.
In determining an evaluation rating, the commission examines various qualifications, including a candidate’s professional ability and experience, industry, intellectual capacity, community respect, and commitment to equal justice.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company