Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Fifth District Presiding Justice James Ardaiz to Retire
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
Fifth District Court of Appeal Presiding Justice James A. Ardaiz said yesterday that he will step down at the conclusion of his term in January after more than 30 years on the bench.
Ardaiz, 62, told the MetNews he was retiring rather than seek retention to another 12-year term in order to avoid a provision in the state Constitution that would bar him from accepting any other public posts if he stepped down before that term concluded in early 2023.
The justice, who has been the Fifth District’s administrative presiding justice since 1994, said he had previously received overtures to accept other posts, but commented that he had “nothing specific” in mind. He did, however, add that he plans “to stay actively involved in the legal profession.”
Ardaiz also said that he was announcing his retirement now in order to give Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger adequate time before a Sept. 16 deadline to name a candidate to replace him. That candidate will be subject to confirmation by the Commission on Judicial Appointments and voters’ approval on the November ballot.
Elected to the Fresno Municipal Court in 1980, Ardaiz served as assistant presiding judge and presiding judge before joining the Fresno Superior Court in 1984 at the appointment of then-Gov. George Deukmejian. In 1988, Deukmejian appointed Ardaiz to the Fifth District, which is headquartered in Fresno, and in 1994 then-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed him presiding justice.
Ardaiz expressed gratitude to Schwarzenegger for his support and for the support of the governor’s predecessors who provided Ardaiz “with the opportunity for a memorable and incredibly satisfying career.”
Ardaiz’s Fifth District colleague, Justice Brad R. Hill, commented:
“Justice James Ardaiz has done an extraordinary job over the past 15 years as our Administrative Presiding Justice. When he became Presiding Justice in 1994, he instituted a number of measures that not only reduced but essentially eliminated our case backlog. He initiated and expanded our court outreach efforts. He inspired and spearheaded the construction of the court’s new building that opened in 2007.
“He has presided over a court that is known statewide as an innovative court and as an exceptionally collegial one….He is also highly regarded for his keen intellect and always having the courage of his convictions. He will be greatly missed by all the justices and court staff.”
Ardaiz is a recipient of many awards, including the Distinguished American Award presented to him in 2008 by the Japanese American Citizens League for his service to the Japanese American community by helping them obtain a memorial for a World War II detention site.
In 2004, he was honored with the Blaine Pettitt Mentor Award, given by the Fresno County Young Lawyers to an attorney or judge who has served as a role model to the legal community. In 1999, the Judicial Council gave Ardaiz its California Jurist of the Year Award, which recognizes judicial and administrative distinction.
During Ardaiz’s tenure, the Fifth Appellate District received two Ralph M. Kleps Awards for judicial management, one in 1993 and another in 2003. These awards are given to courts for implementing innovative programs that benefit the courts and the public.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who appointed Ardaiz as the Fifth District’s administrative presiding justice, also appointed him as chair of several Judicial Council committees, including the 2002-2004 Task Force on Making the Record, the 1996 Task Force on Judicial Elections and the 1998-2000 Task Force on Trial Court Employees.
The latter was charged with developing recommendations for a new personnel system for the state’s 18,000 trial court employees as a result of the Trial Court Funding Act of 1997. Under Ardaiz’s leadership, the panel drafted comprehensive legislation that was signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis in 2000 with unanimous approval of the Legislature.
Ardaiz also served on the Judicial Council from 1993 to 1996 at the appointment of Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas.
Born in Fort Wayne, Ind., Ardaiz was reared in Fresno and attended California State University there before graduating from the UC Hastings College of Law and joining the State Bar in 1974. In 2000, he was named the Hastings College of Law Alumnus of the Year for the Fresno Hastings Alumni Association.
Following law school, Ardaiz went to work for the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, and in 1977 became the chief deputy district attorney for homicide, remaining in that post until his election to the bench. While there, he prosecuted Clarence Allen, a leader of a Fresno crime ring who was sentenced to death for ordering three killings from Folsom State Prison while serving time there for murder.
In addition to his judicial career, Ardaiz is co-author of “California Evidence,” a computerized research book on evidence law in California. He has authored numerous articles about the death penalty and California’s “Three Strikes” law. He also wrote an article for California Lawyer magazine about his experiences as a witness at Allen’s 2006 execution.
He drew some controversy over his involvement in the drafting of the “Three Strikes” law, with some questioning the propriety of the judiciary being involved in the initiative process.
Ardaiz has been married for 40 years to his wife, Pam. They have three children. He is also the brother-in-law of California Supreme Court Justice Marvin Baxter.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company