CJAC: Civil Justice Association of California

Jan 21, 2011

Schwarzenegger, Davis Differed Sharply in Judicial Appointments, CJAC Analysis Finds

Legal reform group urges Governor Brown to consider state’s dismal legal climate when making his appointments

SACRAMENTO - Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger embraced diversity in his judicial appointments, appointing trial court judges with experience in a wide spectrum of the law, according to an analysis by the Civil Justice Association of California, the state’s leading advocacy group for legal reform.

That diversity is sharply different from the appointees of Schwarzenegger’s predecessor, Gray Davis, who selected most of his judicial appointments from a much narrower pool - a large component of which included trial lawyers.

“Elections have consequences, and one of the greatest consequences is the makeup of the state’s judiciary,” said CJAC President Kimberly Stone. “The wide disparity in the backgrounds of the judges appointed by Governors Davis and Schwarzenegger clearly demonstrates that governors leave a big mark on the courthouse for many years.

“We urge Governor Brown to keep the big picture in mind as he begins to appoint judges because the men and women he appoints will play a major role in shaping the state’s overall legal climate, which for too long has been near the bottom nationally and makes it less likely that companies will locate or expand in California. In addition to racial diversity, judges can and should come from all walks of legal life: prosecutors, litigators, business lawyers, court commissioners, government attorneys, and others.”

California ranked 46th in the Institute for Legal Reform’s 2010 survey of the lawsuit climates in each of the 50 states, a regular assessment of state liability systems conducted by the respected, nonpartisan Harris Interactive market research firm. That’s down from 44th in the previous year’s survey.

During his seven years in office, Schwarzenegger appointed 585 Superior Court judges. Of those, 32 percent were lawyers in private practice, 27 percent came from district attorneys’ offices, and 19 percent were court commissioners - lawyers elected by Superior Court judges and given the power to hear and make decisions in certain kinds of legal matters.

In comparison, 48 percent of Davis’s 263 appointees during his five years in office were lawyers in private practice, 16 percent came from district attorneys’ offices, and 13 percent were court commissioners. CJAC compiled the background of the appointees based on press releases issued by each governor. (Charts fully outlining the backgrounds of the judges appointed by each Governor are available below.)

The differences in approach were particularly noticeable when examining the areas in which the lawyers in private practice engaged.

Schwarzenegger picked lawyers who practiced in virtually all areas of the law. The largest number of private practice lawyers and sole practitioners he selected were general practice lawyers (18 percent), followed closely by attorneys in civil defense (15 percent), business law (13 percent) and general civil law (11 percent).

In contrast, 61 percent of the private practice lawyers appointed by Davis practiced business law, and 29 percent were plaintiffs’ attorneys or workers’ compensation lawyers. In fact, Davis appointed almost as many trial lawyers (36) as he did prosecutors (41). In contrast, Schwarzenegger appointed just 17 personal injury lawyers, which accounted for only 9 percent of his private practice appointees.

In California, most Superior Court judges are appointed by the governor when a vacancy occurs. Voters then ratify that selection at the next election, and the appointee then serves out the remainder of the term. Most trial court judges run unopposed for reelection. Stone said that process is probably the best judicial selection system in the country since politics and political contributions are largely absent, but only when the governor makes good appointments to begin with.

“Governor Brown has stated many times that he wants to rebuild California and make it the Golden State once again,” Stone said. “Appointing common-sense judges who will enforce the law fairly is an enormous part of making that promise a reality.”

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