SACRAMENTO — State Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, in his first public speech since being voted out of office, said Thursday night that the consensus of the last 50 years, in which judges have been protected from political attack, has broken down.
"A consensus . . . that those in partisan public office, in particular, would not attack those who were in the third branch of government (the courts) . . . has fallen apart under a largely partisan attack," Reynoso said at the annual dinner of the Friends Committee on Legislation, a liberal Quaker lobbying group.
Reference to Kaus
Referring to the words of retired Justice Otto Kaus that it is no more possible for the court to ignore the political consequences of its actions than it would be to make small talk with a gorilla at dinner, Reynoso said, "That gorilla has been invited to have dinner with us every night."
"Judges, consciously or subconsciously, will have to worry about whether their opinions are making powerful political or economic interests in this state happy or unhappy."
Reynoso did not discuss his future plans and declined to answer reporters' questions.
A former poverty lawyer who was appointed by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in 1982 as the first Latino on the Supreme Court, Reynoso was defeated Nov. 4 along with Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and Justice Joseph R. Grodin, also Brown appointees.
Gov. George Deukmejian, who joined a conservative effort to unseat the three justices, will appoint their successors once they leave office Jan. 5, giving him five appointees on the seven-member court.
Reynoso referred to Deukmejian, without naming him, when he spoke critically of a candidate who told voters, "I'm running for the executive, but I want my court too."
"If you have, in addition to a partisan interest and money, a popular candidate and an issue that is emotional and whereby the public can be misled, then you have the ingredients for a repetition in the future of what happened this year," Reynoso said.
He said it may be time to consider other systems, such as the lifetime appointment of federal judges, a single 15-year term without reappointment or limiting to two the number of justices on the ballot in any one election.
Again without mentioning names, he touched on the refusal of Deukmejian's two appointees on the current court, Malcolm M. Lucas and Edward Panelli, to take a public position on the other justices on the ballot. Both of them were confirmed without organized opposition, along with Justice Stanley Mosk, who endorsed all his colleagues.
"Even four years ago, a justice appointed by Ronald Reagan felt free to tell the press that he of course was going to vote for all of his fellow justices," Reynoso said, referring to now-retired Justice Frank Richardson's endorsement in 1982 of three Brown appointees on the ballot, including Reynoso.
'Consensus Broke Apart'
"Yet the consensus so broke apart this year that we didn't hear that kind of discussion," he said.
Although consultants in Reynoso's campaign have been quoted as saying he blames Bird for his defeat, Reynoso had nothing but praise for Bird, calling her "a chief justice of courage who has served the people of this state well."
He said California will be unable to get chief justices like Bird and her predecessors, Donald Wright, Roger Traynor and Phil Gibson, "if they find that instead of judges they have to be politicians."