Gavel Grab

CA Court Nomination Makes ‘Statement to the Rest of the Nation’

CASupremeCourtGov. Jerry Brown’s nomination of Stanford law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, a Mexican immigrant to the United States, to the California Supreme Court is sparking attention for the statement it makes about diversity.

The nomination represents “a statement to the rest of the nation as we go through this backlash against immigrants,” said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, according to a San Francisco Chronicle article. 

California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg described the nomination as “a timely reminder that our Golden State was forged by disparate immigrant communities who pushed frontiers and who, together, recognized a common strength in diversity.” Read more

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Governor Nominates Law Professor Cuéllar for CA High Court



Gov. Jerry Brown has nominated Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, a Stanford law professor and Mexican-born immigrant to the United States, to the California Supreme Court.

Cuéllar has served under Presidents Obama and Clinton and has an undergraduate degree from Harvard College and advanced degrees from Yale Law School and Stanford, according to the Los Angeles Times. If confirmed, Cuéllar would be the only Latino serving on the state’s highest court, NBC News reported.

In commending Brown’s choice, the  National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) said, “It is vital that the state’s highest court reflect the full diversity of its residents.” Read more

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Campaign Finance Measures Advance in California, Massachusetts

campaign_financeCalifornia Gov. Jerry Brown said he will allow citizens to vote this fall on an advisory measure asking Congress to revise the U.S. Constitution and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

Citizens United was “wrongly decided and grossly underestimated the corrupting influence of unchecked money on our democratic institutions,” the governor said in a message to legislators, according to the Los Angeles Times. However, he said the advisory measure would have no legal effect and he would not sign it.

In Massachusetts, meanwhile, the state House has passed legislation to require greater public disclosure by super PACs, and the Senate will consider it. Read more

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Record Spending Ahead in L.A. Court Primary Race?

gavel-and-cash.125192919_stdA primary contest for a Los Angeles Superior Court seat is likely to see record spending by one of two candidates, Deputy District Attorney Helen Kim, the Metropolitan News-Enterprise reports.

Kim’s campaign had raised more than $853,000 and spent more than $415,000 by May 17.  The primary will be held June 3. Her campaign’s next spending report will be due July 31.

The campaign of Deputy District Attorney Alison Matsumoto Estrada, opposing Kim, had raised $144,000 and had less than $17,000 on hand 10 days ago. The past record spending for a Los Angeles Superior Court judgeship in a primary contest was $450,000, in a race two years ago.

Donors to the Kim and Estrada campaigns included attorneys and judges.

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Critical Ads in Judicial Elections Draw Attention, Questions

RobinHudsonAttackAdAds critical of judicial candidates are getting attention, and questioning, in news media reports from several states.

As Gavel Grab mentioned earlier, a TV ad in the North Carolina Supreme Court primary said incumbent Justice Robin Hudson was “not tough on child molesters.” Raleigh News & Observer columnist Rob Christensen now writes that $1.3 million spent linking the judge and child molesters “was too extreme.” It is evidence that voters “know when one [negative ad] doesn’t pass the smell test” that the ad “backfired and Hudson led the primary field,” he adds.

Meanwhile, regarding an Arkansas Supreme Court race set for May 20, a Times Record article focused on an ad by the Law Enforcement Alliance of America that accuses a candidate of believing that child pornography is a victimless crime.

The Arkansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers condemned the ad. “To challenge the qualifications of a judicial candidate for fulfilling a constitutional mandate of a person’s right to counsel is to belittle one of the core beliefs of this country,” said Justin Eisele, the group’s president. Read more

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Ethics Watchdog Casts ‘Ballot Against Judicial Elections’

“I cast my ballot against judicial elections,” writes Jessica Levinson, who teaches at Loyola Law School-Los Angeles, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. Her essay is entitled, “Why voters shouldn’t be electing judges.”

In an explanatory piece about how judicial elections for lower courts in California work — or fall short of working — Levinson points out how little meaningful information voters know about judicial candidates and how lawyers who appear before judges are most likely to make contributions in judicial elections. She goes on to cite the “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12” compiled by JAS and two partner organizations:

“It is problematic for judicial candidates to ask for and receive money from those who may have cases before them in the future. A 2013 report by the Brennan Center, the National Institute on Money in State Politics and Justice at Stake detailed the pitfalls of such a system.” Read more

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Campaign Giving Limit On Way Out in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s limit of $10,000 for the aggregate sum a donor can give to all political candidates in a year appears destined for history as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling (see Gavel Grab).

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that state election officials said in federal court proceedings they could no longer enforce the limit. Mike McCabe of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a Justice at Stake partner organization, said the decision is “going to vastly increase the power of a few hundred donors.”

In another state development tied to campaign finance laws,  the California legislature finished its approval of legislation that the Los Angeles Times said “would force nonprofit groups and others to disclose the true source of large contributions to California campaigns.”

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California Has ‘Most-Cut Judiciary’ in Nation, Judge Says

gavel_jarofcoinsCalifornia’s courts, having faced funding cuts totaling $1 billion since 2008, are now desperately underfunded, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye told an audience in Marin County.

As a result of the cuts, 51 courthouses have closed. That comes at a time when there are 7.5 million new cases a year, the Marin Independent Journal reported.

“We have the dubious distinction of being the most-cut judiciary in the United States,” the chief justice said.

A budget proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown would furnish an additional $100 million in 2014-15 for trial court operations, but state court officials say that represents but half of the sum taken from the system’s reserves to keep operating.

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Ninth Circuit Court Vacancy Filled After Nine Years

John_Owens_2013The longest vacancy on any federal circuit court was filled Monday after the Senate confirmed Los Angeles attorney John Owens to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The delay in filling the vacancy had more to do with a fight between two states than the usual partisan bickering that’s held up previous judicial seats. SFGate reports that Appeals court judgeships are informally apportioned among states in each circuit. Senators from both Idaho and California laid claim to the seat.

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California Courts Facing Civil Rights Crisis?

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye gives her State of the Judiciary

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye gives her State of the Judiciary

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye says the state faces a civil rights crisis because of nearly a half billion dollars in court funding budget cuts since 2008.

“It’s tragic that 50 years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, California faces a different type of civil rights crisis,” Cantil-Saauye told the Los Angeles Times. “It is not about the law. It is about access to it.”

According to the Sacramento Bee, delays are faced in numerous cases including urgent family matters, business contracts, wrongful termination and discrimination cases. She assured the legislature that the courts want to be a partner in fair and collaborative solutions.

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