SAN FRANCISCO — State Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Grodin said Wednesday that he probably would have won confirmation in the election last week if California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird had not been on the same ballot.
Grodin also accused Gov. George Deukmejian of misleading the voters and of opposing his election in order to gain control of the liberal-dominated seven-member court.
"I think I was caught--as was Justice (Cruz) Reynoso--in a tide of opposition to the chief justice and frustration over the death penalty," he said. "And that tide--whipped up by the television ads of the opposition--reached such a level of emotional intensity that we were just swept up in it."
Grodin won 43% of the vote, Reynoso 40% and Bird 34%.
Although acknowledging that he and Bird had disagreed on campaign strategy, Grodin refused to blame the chief justice for his defeat.
He also expressed concern over what he described as widespread attempts to "undermine the authority of the courts"--including attacks by U.S. Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III on the U.S. Supreme Court.
"What happened here in California, while in some ways quite peculiar . . . is also an echo of things that are happening elsewhere in the country," he said.
Grodin, Reynoso and Bird, all appointees of former Democratic Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., were defeated in the first such action by the voters since the state adopted nonpartisan judicial retention elections in 1934. The three will leave office when their terms expire Jan. 5.
Justices Stanley Mosk, Malcolm M. Lucas and Edward A. Panelli faced no organized opposition and easily won confirmation.
Deukmejian, who opposed Bird, Reynoso and Grodin, is expected to name their successors in the weeks ahead, giving judicial conservatives control of the court for the first time in decades.
The silver-haired 56-year-old Grodin, a former law professor and specialist in labor law, discussed the election and other legal issues in a meeting with reporters in his office. He appeared relaxed and philosophical, remarking that he did not feel his defeat was "something I should take personally."
"The election results, I must say, were a surprise to me and somewhat of a shock," he said. "But we did the best we could--and I don't know of anything we could have done that could have changed the situation."
Grodin acknowledged that he had disagreed with Bird over her strong criticism of Deukmejian during the campaign, "not because I thought the governor should be immune from attack, but because I expected to remain on the court and I didn't want to politicize further an already politicized situation."
Grodin refused to join in assertions made last week by a campaign aide that Bird, facing certain defeat, should have resigned in an effort to save her colleagues.
"I still don't regard myself as a politician, and there are a whole lot of people who can answer that question better than I," he said. ". . . I don't blame anyone or any single factor for my defeat."
Grodin said he bears no grudge against those who voted against him, except for "those who should have known better."
Questioned further by reporters, Grodin accused Deukmejian of deceiving the voters by saying his opposition was based on Grodin's record on the death penalty.
"That was a rationalization by the governor for a position that was otherwise motivated . . . to obtain another seat on the court," Grodin said.
Since he joined the court in 1982, Grodin has voted against executions in 40 of the 45 capital cases he has considered. The court under Bird has affirmed only three death sentences in 61 capital cases, and no executions are expected for some time.
Grodin said Wednesday, as he did many times during the campaign, that he had no intention of "thwarting the will" of an electorate that has overwhelmingly approved capital punishment at the polls.
When he names successors to Bird, Reynoso and Grodin, Deukmejian will have five appointees on the court. Brown, during his eight-year tenure, made seven nominations to the high court, five of whom served at the same time.
Grodin said it is "inevitable" that, in light of the election, judges would feel increased pressure in the decision-making process.
"But I would hope that no judge worth his salt would decide a case differently for political reasons," he said.
He added that he fears "we have created a situation" in which judges will be accused of deciding cases for political reasons, even when they had not done so.
Grodin said he plans to take a three-week vacation, then return to devote his full effort to helping the court clear its docket of as many cases as possible before he, Reynoso and Bird leave office.
He acknowledged that he has received several job offers and said he is considering teaching, writing or practicing law--"or a combination of all three."