Friday, September 26, 2003
Four Jurists Confirmed for Southern California Appellate Posts
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
Four women were unanimously confirmed yesterday by the Commission on Judicial Appointments to fill Court of Appeal seats in the two Southern California districts.
Following hearings and confirmation votes at the Ronald Reagan Building in Los Angeles, Justice Judith McConnell of the Fourth District’s Div. One was sworn in as presiding justice of that division, Joan Irion as an associate justice of that division to succeed McConnell, Laurie Zelon as a justice of this district’s Div. Seven, and Madeleine Flier as a justice of this district’s Div. Eight.
All three of the new associate justices were elevated from trial courts—Irion from the San Diego Superior Court, Zelon and Flier from the Los Angeles Superior Court.
McConnell, Irion and Zelon were rated “exceptionally well qualified” for their posts by the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation. Flier was rated “qualified.”
Several participants in the hearings noted the historic nature of the occasion. Never before have four women been confirmed to Court of Appeal positions on the same day.
Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of this district’s Div. Three, a member of the commission, said it was a “red-letter day.” Klein, herself a pioneering jurist who helped found the National Association of Women Judges, praised Gov. Gray Davis for having the “perspicacity to recognize that these women have something special to offer.”
Davis’ judicial appointments secretary, Burt Pines, testifying in support of Zelon’s nomination, said he was “proud to be part of an administration that is committed to diversity on the bench, as well as to excellence.”
Another woman justice is expected to reach the Court of Appeal today when the Commission on Judicial Appointments, meeting in San Francisco, considers the nomination of Merced Superior Court Betty Dawson to the Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Zelon, 50, fills the vacancy created in Div. Seven by the appointment of Justice Donald Perluss—a former partner of Zelon’s at Hufstedler, Kaus & Beardsley and later at Morrison & Foerster—to the position of presiding justice.
Perluss, who noted that he interviewed Zelon for the Hufstedler firm when she was still in law school, pronounced himself “ecstatic” after her confirmation and said he was looking forward to having a full bench and working with Zelon again.
Testifying on her behalf, besides Pines, were former U.S. Secretary of Education Shirley Hufstedler and former County Bar President Patricia Phillips, both of whom practiced with Zelon before she took the bench.
“I have seen Laurie develop from an eager associate...to an outstanding trial judge, and she will be an outstanding appellate judge,” Hufstedler said.
The former Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge and Carter cabinet member expressed pride that her former partners Zelon and Perluss will sit together on the same division. “The bench and bar is going to be...enthusiastic about this tribunal,” she said.
Zelon, in her own remarks to the commission, praised her mentors at the Hufstedler firm for teaching her “not only to be the best lawyer I could, but to be the consummate professional.” She paid special tribute to the late State Bar President Sam Williams, and thanked his widow for attending the hearing.
“I know that if Sam were still here he’d be cheering me on, saying ‘You go get that’ [seat on the appeals court].”
Zelon, a former Los Angeles County Bar Association president, was named to the Superior Court by Davis in 2000. Both she and Flier have been presiding over direct calendar civil courts at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse downtown.
Zelon earned her undergraduate degree at Cornell University and attended law school at Harvard. The Pro Bono Institute in Washington, D.C. has named an award, “The Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award,” in her honor.
In 2000 she won the Loren Miller Legal Services Award, given each year by the State Bar to an attorney who demonstrates a long-term commitment to legal services for the indigent.
Testifying for Flier were retired Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Elwood Lui, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frances Rothschild, and attorneys Toni Rae Bruno and Larry Feldman.
In a note of levity underscoring the non-controversial nature of the proceedings—no one testified against any of yesterday’s nominees—Lui, in the middle of his testimony, presented Flier with a box of chocolates, commenting on her fondness for the sweets.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George quipped that at the end of a series of four confirmation hearings, Lui’s presentation was “close to cruel and unusual punishment.”
On a more serious note, Lui praised the nominee’s 30-year judicial career, noting that he had been her supervising judge in dependency court. He became aware early on, he said, of “how hard she worked in this challenging and difficult assignment.”
Feldman, a former president of both the County Bar and the Los Angeles Trial Lawyers Association, commented on the anonymous sculptor who carved the famous statue of Lady Justice. “He must have had a judge like Madeline Flier in mind when he first put hand to clay.”
Flier is known for her ability to put parties, lawyers, and jurors at ease, even in complex cases, and “exercises the power of a judge, not with arrogance, but with grace and elegance,” Feldman said. The trial bar, he said, “will miss Judge Flier in the trenches.”
Flier, 63, was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 1977 and elevated by Brown to the Superior Court in 1980. She was the first woman to become assistant Los Angeles city attorney, and worked in the City Attorney’s Office from 1968 to 1977. She has been a member of the Commission on Judicial Performance since 1999.
Flier has been a member of the Los Angeles County Law Library Board of Trustees for many years and was the board’s president from 1996 to 1997. She earned her law degree at the University of San Fernando Valley College of Law after undergraduate studies at UCLA.
Her appointment gives Div. Eight a full compliment of four justices for the first time in its history. The division came into being in January of 2001 under SB 1857 and its first justices—Presiding Justice Candace Cooper and Justices Paul Boland and Laurence D. Rubin—were appointed in October of that year.
McConnell, 59, was named to Div. One by Davis in 2001. She was previously a San Diego Superior Court judge and before that a San Diego Municipal Court judge.
Irion, 47, was appointed by Davis to the San Diego Superior Court in 2000. She has been presiding over a family law department in the court’s North County Division.
Before her appointment to the bench, she was a member and managing partner of the San Diego office of the law firm of Heller, Ehrman, White and McAuliffe. She has been a member of the State Bar Board of Governors and the Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission, president of the California Young Lawyers Association, a delegate to the ABA House of Delegates, and co-chair of the ABA Tax Litigation Committee.
Irion earned her undergraduate and law degrees from UC Davis and a master of public administration degree from San Diego State University.
The Commission on Judicial Appointments consists of George, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, and the senior presiding justice of the Court of Appeal to which the appointment is made.
The retirement of McConnell’s predecessor, Daniel Kremer, made David Sills of Div. Three the senior presiding justice in the Fourth District.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company