Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Page 1


Poochigian Lacks ‘Practical Legal Experience’ — JNE


By Kenneth Ofgang, Staff Writer


Former state Sen. Charles Poochigian lacks the “actual practical legal experience” required of a Court of Appeal justice, the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation said in a letter made public yesterday.

In the letter dated Sept. 16, the commission advised Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who chairs the Commission on Judicial Appointments, that it found the Fresno Republican “Not Qualified” for appointment to the Fifth District Court of Appeal. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated Poochigian to that court on Aug. 20.

Yesterday’s release by the chief justice, made two days in advance of tomorrow’s scheduled confirmation hearing in accordance with Commission on Judicial Appointments guidelines, was the first official confirmation of the rating, which was first reported in a column by MetNews Editor Roger M. Grace on Aug. 17.

JNE Commission Chair Jonathan Wolf of San Francisco wrote to the chief justice that the nominee “is intelligent, diligent, and an independent thinker, courteous, and even well under pressure and demonstrates courage, compassion, and common a committed to public service.”

Legal Background

But Poochigian’s legal background does not qualify him for the appellate bench, Wolf said, explaining:

“He had not practiced law for approximately 21 years and had not litigated a case in approximately the same amount of time. Moreover, he has no jury trials and no criminal law experience.”

The commission did consider Poochigian’s experience in the Legislature, including his work on criminal law issues as vice chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, but did not find this sufficient, Wolf related.

Wolf is scheduled to present the commission’s report at tomorrow’s hearing, which will take place in the Supreme Court’s San Francisco courtroom. A call to Poochigian, who previously cited confidentiality concerns in declining to respond to the leaking of the rating, was not returned.

Scheduled to testify for Poochigian are Court of Appeal Justices Brad R. Hill and Stephen J. Kane of the Fifth District and Vance W. Raye of the Third District, Fresno attorney and former State Bar President Anthony P. Cappozi, and former Democratic legislator, now lobbyist, Kerry Mazzoni.

Opposition Witness

The only witness scheduled to oppose the nomination is Geoffrey Kors, executive director of the gay rights group Equality California. Kors told the MetNews in a statement:

“Equality California is extremely disappointed by the Governor’s appointment. Mr. Poochigan’s voting record on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in the California Legislature was abysmal. He consistently scored 0 [percent] on EQCA’s legislative scorecards. While serving in the State Senate, he opposed every major LGBT bill, including: AB 1001 (Villaraigosa), which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation; AB 537 (Kuehl), which protected LGBT students from harassment and violence in public schools; and AB 25 (Migden), which established the most basic rights and responsibilities for same-sex domestic partners. Having him on the bench will put the rights of LGBT Californians in jeopardy.”

Officials yesterday also released a list of persons who had written to the commission supporting or opposing the nomination.

Among those backing Poochigian are state Supreme Court Justices Marvin Baxter and Carol Corrigan, former State Bar Presidents Sheldon H. Sloan and Donald R. Fischbach, former Governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, and more than a dozen current and former Court of Appeal justices, including three from this district—Richard Mosk of Div. Five and Patti S. Kitching and Walter Croskey of Div. Three.

Mosk commented yesterday that while he does not know the nominee personally, he wrote because he believes that “its helpful to have all kinds of experiences” on the bench.

The jurist noted that he came to the appellate court with no judicial service, although he had served on the international tribunal hearing claims to Iranian assets frozen by the U.S. government.

Several former legislators who had never been trial judges have served on the Court of Appeal, Mosk noted, just as “some [justices] have no criminal experience, and  some have only criminal experience” before coming to the court.

Poochigian joined the Fresno law firm of Dowling, Aaron and Keeler after losing the 2006 contest for attorney general to Jerry Brown, who along with George and Fifth District Presiding Justice James Ardaiz, make up the Commission on Judicial Appointments.

He served in the state Assembly from 1994 to 1998 and the Senate from 1998 to 2006.

A graduate of California State University, Fresno and Santa Clara University School of Law, he practiced with Steven Vartabedian—now a justice on the Fifth District—from 1975 until 1981, when Vartabedian began his judicial career on the now-defunct Sanger Justice Court. Poochigian then practiced on his own until 1998, when Deukmejian named him chief deputy appointments secretary.

When Deukmejian left office, Wilson made Poochigian his appointments secretary, a post he held until leaving to run for the Assembly. If confirmed, he would fill a seat that has been vacant since Justice Thomas Harris died Nov. 12 of last year.


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