SAN FRANCISCO — Gov. George Deukmejian announced today that he will appoint Malcolm Lucas, his former law partner, to replace Rose Elizabeth Bird in January as chief justice of the California Supreme Court.
"Malcolm Lucas is superbly qualified--in judicial experience and temperament, administrative ability and personal integrity--to match the demands of this high position of public trust," Deukmejian said in a written announcement of the appointment.
Lucas issued a statement saying he was "deeply honored" by the nomination and taking note of the turmoil that surrounded the court in the Nov. 4 election that unseated Bird and two of her colleagues.
Healing the Wounds
"Recent events have placed considerable pressure upon our court as an institution, but in the coming months I will attempt to take steps to heal some of our wounds and restore public faith in our judicial system," Lucas said. "I have confidence in the ability of the court to be one of the most respected courts in our nation."
Lucas, who was the Republican governor's first appointee as associate justice of the state's highest court 2 1/2 years ago, appears to be an ideal choice for Deukmejian's goal of reshaping the state Supreme Court.
Since his appointment as associate justice on the seven-member court in April, 1984, Lucas has established himself as the most conservative member of the current court, and probably the most conservative justice since William Clark resigned in 1981 to join President Reagan's Administration.
Just as important, Lucas has shown himself willing to re-examine a number of important rulings by the Bird court on topics ranging from abortions to public employee strikes to the death penalty.
Last fall, he wrote a dissenting opinion saying he no longer considered himself bound by the court's 1983 and 1984 decisions prohibiting a death sentence unless the jury found that the killing was intentional.
Lucas said the rulings were responsible for "an increasing number of unnecessary reversals and retrials," and called for their repeal.
In the Nov. 4 election that resulted in the unprecedented defeat of Bird and Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin, Lucas was the leading vote-getter, with a 79% majority.
He faced no organized opposition, conducted no campaign and refused to take a public position on the retention of his colleagues. He issued a post-election statement that contained no reference to the defeated justices, saying only that the court had endured a "difficult, indeed painful time" but would survive with its reputation intact.
Lucas' elevation to chief justice, which is subject to confirmation by the three-member Commission on Judicial Appointments, leaves Deukmejian three associate justice posts to fill on the court--successors to Reynoso and Grodin plus Lucas' associate justice seat on the court.
Just how much of the Bird court's work will be undone may depend on the leadership skills of the tall, silver-haired, 59-year-old former trial judge, who was once known as "Maximum Malcolm" by defense lawyers for his sentencing practices on the federal bench.
Lucas' maternal great-grandfather was twice governor of Ohio. His brother, Campbell, is a state appeals court justice in Los Angeles, appointed two years ago by Deukmejian, who was a partner with both brothers in a Long Beach law firm for three years.
He practiced civil law for 13 years in Long Beach before Gov. Ronald Reagan named him to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1967.
Not known as a political activist, Lucas nevertheless got involved in Republican politics as a member of the party's state Central Committee and of President Richard M. Nixon's screening committee for federal judges. In 1971, Lucas himself was tapped by Nixon for the federal bench in Los Angeles.