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October 18-24, 2006

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Ikes!: Yep, scared us, too. Up for reapproval, Associate Justice Paul R. Haerle served under Ronald Reagan's gubernatorial guidance.

Judicial Review

Everything you never wanted to know--but should--about the California Supreme Court

By Patricia Lynn Henley

There's a mind-numbingly long list of uncontested judicial offices on California's Nov. 7 ballot. While it might seem odd to have so many positions with only one candidate each, that's pretty much par for the course in a gubernatorial election year when voters are asked to say thumbs up or thumbs down to California's new or continuing supreme and appellate court justices.

"We can get a lot of questions from voters," says Debra Russotti, Sonoma County's election services supervisor. "It's confusing when there are all those names and no candidate statements."

What exactly is going on?

The California Supreme Court is the state's highest court; its decisions are binding on all other state courts. There is one chief justice and six associate justices. According to the nonprofit National Center for State Courts' annual Survey of Judicial Salaries, California's chief justice pulls down $199,000 annually; the six associate justices each earn $182,000.

The Courts of Appeal provide what's considered an intermediate review, evaluating lower courts' rulings to ensure the law was interpreted and applied consistently and uniformly. The state is split into six appellate districts. Most of these are broken down into divisions, each with one presiding justice and three or more associate justices. Appellate cases are heard before panels of three judges. The national salary survey pegs their income at $178,000 for presiding justices and $171,000 for associates.

That gives us seven well-paid Supreme Court positions with another 105 at the appellate level. All are considered nonpartisan, and voters don't get to pick their favorites; they are merely asked to approve or disapprove a preselected appointee who is already serving on the bench.

Here's how it works: First, the governor chooses potential candidates for any supreme or appellate vacancies. Those candidates' backgrounds and qualifications are reviewed by the Judicial Nomination Evaluation Commission, which includes lawyers and members of the public. This commission's evaluations are then sent back to the governor, who then officially nominates the candidates.

Those nominations are forwarded to the Commission on Judicial Appointments, which consists of California's chief justice, attorney general and a senior presiding justice of the Courts of Appeal. After another public review of the candidates' qualifications and experience, the commission either confirms or rejects the nominations.

If confirmed, the candidate becomes a justice and takes his or her seat in court. Each serves 12-year terms or, if replacing another justice, however many years are left in that judge's term.

Every four years during a gubernatorial election, California voters are presented with a list of justices--those appointed to the bench within the past four years; those who have moved up a step within this judicial hierarchy; and any finishing their current term and want to serve another 12 years.

All of which is to explain why there are so many judicial names on the Nov. 7 ballot with voters asked only to mark "yes" or "no" to each one. Still not sure how to vote? One semiblind way to determine preference is to pay attention to which governor appointed the judge.

The exact appellate candidates listed on a specific ballot vary depending on the area. For example, there are 10 candidates in the 1st District, which has 20 justices in five divisions covering 12 counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma. Voters in those counties will receive ballots with the names of all 10 1st District candidates.

State law prohibits printing explanatory candidates' statements for these judicial elections in the official voters' guides. However, detailed official biographies for both the supreme and appellate courts are online at

That's all folks. Civics class is dismissed. Here come da judges.

Who's Who

Know Your Big 10

On Nov. 7, North Bay voters will be presented with a faceless list of justices up for approval; two at the Supreme Court level and 10 in the 1st District appellate courts. Here's a quick overview of who's who.

Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan is a Stockton native who previously served as a district attorney and an associate justice at the appellate level. She was appointed to the Supreme Court by Gov. Schwarzenegger in December and confirmed last January.

Associate Justice Joyce L. Kennard, previously a deputy attorney general and Los Angeles Superior Court judge, was appointed by Gov. Deukmejian in April 1989 to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, and is wrapping up a 12-year term that began in 1994.

Specific to District 1, the following are on your ballot:

  • Division One Presiding Justice James J. Marchiano: Named presiding justice, January 2002; appointed associate justice by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1998; served 10 years on the Contra Costa County Superior Court; was a practicing civil litigator.
  • Division Three Presiding Justice William R. McGuiness: Named presiding justice in January 2002; appointed associate justice by Gov. Wilson in 1997; served 11 years as an Alameda County Superior Court judge.
  • Division Four Presiding Justice Ignazio John Ruvolo: Named presiding justice by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in January; appointed associate justice by Gov. Wilson in 1996; appointed to Contra Costa Superior Court by Wilson in 1994.
  • Division Five Presiding Justice Barbara Jones: Confirmed as presiding justice in 1998; appointed to appellate court by Gov. Wilson in 1996; served on San Francisco Superior Court 1992-'96; practiced general business and personal-injury litigation for 16 years.
  • Associate Justice Sandra L. Margulies: Appointed to the appellate level by Gov. Gray Davis in January 2002; previously served as a deputy district attorney and an Alameda County Superior Court judge.
  • Associate Justice Paul R. Haerle: Appointed to the Courts of Appeal by Gov. Wilson in 1994; practiced law before and after serving as appointments secretary to Gov. Ronald Reagan, 1967-'69.
  • Associate Justice James A. Richman: Appointed to the appellate court by Gov. Schwarzenegger and confirmed in February; 10 years on Alameda County Superior Court; was a partner in an Alameda law.
  • Associate Justice Peter Siggins: Appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger last December; practiced civil law and worked in the California Attorney General's office before becoming Schwarzenegger's legal affairs secretary (2003-'05) and interim chief of staff (September-November 2005).
  • Associate Justice Maria P. Rivera: Appointed by Gov. Gray Davis in January 2002; served on Contra Costa County Superior Court 1997-2002; previously worked in private practice, for the Department of Justice and as a deputy district attorney in San Francisco.
  • Associate Justice Patricia K. Sepulveda: Appointed by Gov. Wilson December 1998; appointed to the Contra Costa Superior Court by Gov. George Deukmejian October 1989; deputy district attorney in Contra Costa County for 11 years.
  • --PLH

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