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Swift Choice for Bird Seat Vowed : Governor Says He'll Pick 'Fair' Jurist for Panel

November 06, 1986|GEORGE SKELTON | Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

Gov. George Deukmejian said Wednesday he will choose a new California chief justice by the end of the month and promised it will be somebody who is "fair and objective" and can "restore credibility and confidence" to the state's highest court.

Then after he selects a successor to the ousted Rose Elizabeth Bird, the governor said, he will turn to finding replacements for Associate Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph R. Grodin, who also were overwhelmingly rejected by voters on Tuesday.

While Deukmejian basked in the biggest landslide victory of a California gubernatorial candidate in decades, some advisers savored the prospect of his becoming a national folk hero to conservatives who may credit him with having overthrown a liberal Supreme Court in the nation's largest state.

Plenty of Exposure

Deukmejian dismissed any thoughts of national political ambition, despite his massive reelection win. But his aides clearly were mapping out a personal schedule for the governor designed to gain him more exposure and enhance his national image.

Deukmejian intends to attend both the Republican and Western governors conferences on succeeding weekends in December, it was learned, and then travel to Tokyo early next year and to London in late spring to open California trade offices.

The Republican governor's resounding triumph was a political anomaly on a day when all other statewide offices in California went Democratic. Deukmejian received 61% of the vote to only 37% for his Democratic opponent, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley--a cavernous gap of 24 percentage points.

Historically, Deukmejian's victory far surpassed Ronald Reagan's biggest gubernatorial win, a 15-point drubbing of Democratic incumbent Edmund G. (Pat) Brown in 1966. In fact, one has to go clear back to 1950 to find a more lopsided gubernatorial triumph in California. That year, Republican Gov. Earl Warren beat Democrat James Roosevelt by 65% to 35%.

Deukmejian carried every county but two: San Francisco, where he lost decisively, and Alameda across the bay, where Bradley barely won. Even Los Angeles County, Bradley's home turf, wound up in the incumbent's column by an 8-point margin.

Bitterness Remains

It was obvious from the bitter tone of Deukmejian's comments about Bradley on Wednesday that there will be no love lost between the two for a very long time.

"It will be quite difficult for me to forget the very major smear campaign that was undertaken by the Bradley campaign," Deukmejian said. "They spent millions of dollars attacking primarily my personal integrity . . . It was most unfortunate that they engaged in that kind of campaign strategy and quite obviously it did not work for them."

Deukmejian credited the size of his triumph to a simple belief by voters that "we have been on the right track in the last four years." And he said the Democratic-controlled Legislature should "see from those vote results that we do have a very, very broad-based support for my programs and policies. And I would expect that the Legislature would want to be cooperative."

As for Justices Bird, Grodin and Reynoso--against whom he led the political charge--Deukmejian said their defeats represented "a victory for the victims of crime, a victory for justice and for those who want to restore stature to the court."

Choice This Month

"Later this month," he continued, "I intend to submit the name of a chief justice for consideration by the State Bar's Evaluating Committee." He promised to make the name of his selection public at that time.

The three justices, by law, may remain on the court until Jan. 5.

"There is a great need in my view to restore credibility and confidence in the Supreme Court and so we will be following a very thorough, deliberative process," he said. "There are several names that certainly are in my mind, but before I make any final decision, I am going to talk to a number of people. And I do want to have as much input as possible."

Asked whether he would try to find a woman and a Latino for the court, to replace Bird and Reynoso, Deukmejian replied:

"I'm going to be looking for the best qualified people I can find. . . . Unfortunately, the preeminent role that the California Supreme Court had played for decades throughout this state and the nation was greatly diminished in recent years. So I will be looking for individuals--whether they are women, whether they are white males, whether they are from Hispanic communities or any other ethnic community, Asian or black--I just want to find the best people who can work together and apply their professionalism to the interpretation of the law and to greatly enhance the reputation and the stature of the California Supreme Court.

Focus on Experience

"I would probably only consider individuals who, based on their experience and their record, are not bent upon making law in their judicial decisions, but recognize that the responsibility of the judiciary is to fairly interpret that law."

Asked when he believes executions would commence in the state, now that capital punishment's chief roadblocks presumably had been removed from the state Supreme Court, Deukmejian said "that's going to be up to the judiciary."

Regarding the election defeats of all other Republican candidates for statewide office, Deukmejian called it "unfortunate," but said, "I don't think there's anything else (I) could have done" for them.

Some Republican politicians and strategists privately have criticized Deukmejian for not playing a stronger role in helping to recruit and select better GOP statewide candidates. In fact, there was no Republican candidate for state treasurer. Asked about this, the governor said:

"We have a free and open primary system in this state . . . I think that once you get into trying to select who the nominees for the party are going to be, then you're entering into the area of 'king making' and I don't think the people of California would stand for that."

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