Friday, October 19, 2001
Moreno Sworn In as Justice Of State Supreme Court
By DAVID KLINE
SAN FRANCISCO (CAPITOL)—East Los Angeles native Carlos Moreno was sworn in Thursday as the newest associate justice of the California Supreme Court with a promise to “decide cases on their merits, regardless of popularity.”
Moreno, 52, was sworn in by Gov. Gray Davis immediately following his unanimous confirmation by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. The commission consists of California Chief Justice Ronald George, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, of the Los Angeles district’s Div. Three.
Davis’ first appointment to the high court fills a vacancy left in June by the death of Justice Stanley Mosk. Moreno, described by many in the legal community as having a centrist judicial philosophy, has been serving as a federal judge.
During the confirmation hearing, several speakers described Moreno as a conscientious and intelligent judge, and as a mentor and role model for minorities—especially Latinos.
Los Angeles lawyer Fred Alvarez, who attended Stanford University Law School with Moreno, remembered his friend as an excellent student who took others under his wing and inspired them to do better.
“He’ll speak to the possibilities of people who might not see those possibilities,” Alvarez said.
Retired Court of Appeal Justice Elwood Lui, who has known Moreno since 1975, also praised the judge’s role in encouraging minorities to enter law school. Lui said his son was one of the students whom Moreno assisted.
Mexican American Bar Association President Luis Rodriguez said Moreno’s appointment ensures that “we’re all included at this table.” He added that while the Latino community is especially happy about Moreno’s new position, the justice will be “a representative of all communities [who will] serve the state well.”
The governor also praised Moreno as a role model for minorities, but said ethnicity was not a factor in the selection process.
“I had one standard—excellence,” Davis said. “Judge Moreno has a record of excellence that is second to none. ... I did not pick Judge Moreno for his ethnicity.”
The governor said Moreno has “boundless respect for constitutional and legal rights.”
In response to a question from Klein about whether his “minority status” will impact the court, Moreno said it would, “but only in a general way.” Every person’s background affects his or her decision-making process, he said.
“I don’t consider myself a ‘Latino’ justice, ... but it is important to have diversity on the bench,” Moreno added. “I can’t say that it’s going to predispose me one way or the other.”
Klein nodded in appreciation, and when it was time for the confirmation tally, she voted, “Aye, con mucho gusto!”
The State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees gave Moreno its highest rating—“exceptionally well qualified”—chairwoman Pauline Weaver said. She said the commission found that those who have worked with Moreno consider him “very intelligent, a learned scholar of the law, a quick study and insightful.” The judge also was described as “firm but fair” and “unflappable,” she said.
The JNE Commission further reported that Moreno’s peers admire his dedication to his wife, two kids and extended family.
The hearing and swearing-in ceremony were held in the tiny Supreme Court chambers, which were packed with the justice’s friends, family, colleagues and the news media—including reporters from Spanish-language television stations.
The audience included Moreno’s new peers, Justices Marvin Baxter, Janice Rogers Brown, Ming Chin, Joyce Luther Kennard and Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, as well as former Justice Cruz Reynoso and Kaygy Mosk, the widow of Moreno’s predecessor.
With the leaders of the executive and judicial branches both in the room, security was very tight and entrance was by invitation only. A special closed-circuit television viewing area was set up in the court’s basement so members of the public could watch the hearing.
During his testimony, Los Angeles lawyer Bruce Ishimatsu noted that the hearing had been postponed one day to allow Davis and Lockyer to meet with President George W. Bush on Wednesday in Sacramento.
“I suspect the president was lobbying the governor to keep Carlos on the federal bench,” Ishimatsu joked.
George, wearing a blue suit rather than his judicial robe in his role as CJA’s chairman, asked Moreno how he felt about having to go before the voters for retention, rather than having lifetime tenure as federal judges do.
“I’m a firm believer in judicial independence, with or without lifetime tenure,” Moreno said.
Lockyer asked Moreno what non-judicial service gives him the most satisfaction. Moreno said he particularly enjoys mentoring young people, especially those who are considering a career in the law.
In response to another Lockyer question, Moreno said his most memorable case involved a young girl who had come from Romania as a legal immigrant but was about to be deported because of her father’s crimes. Moreno stayed the deportation.
Moreno was born in East Los Angeles and graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School, where he was senior class president. He holds degrees from Yale University and Stanford. At Yale, he headed a Mexican-American student group prior to graduating in 1970.
After graduating Stanford in 1975, he became a Los Angeles deputy city attorney, working in the criminal and consumer fraud sections.
Moreno was a senior associate at the Los Angeles law firm of Kelley, Drye & Warren when then-Gov. George Deukmejian tapped him for the Compton Municipal Court in 1986. He was elevated to the Superior Court by then-Gov. Pete Wilson in 1993, and in 1998 he was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton.
The Commission on Judicial Appointments did not receive any opposition to Moreno’s confirmation.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company