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Arguelles to Leave State's Supreme Court on March 1

November 22, 1988|PHILIP HAGER | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Justice John A. Arguelles, a member of the conservative majority on the realigned state Supreme Court, said Monday he will retire from the bench March 1.

"I've had many years of heavy calendars as a lawyer and a judge," Arguelles, a jurist for nearly 25 years, said. "While I'm still in good health and have some sand in my hourglass left, there are some other things I want to do."

In a letter to Gov. George Deukmejian, the 61-year-old justice said he will return to his home in Orange County to engage "in other business and professional activities."

Arguelles offered no elaboration but said he had advised Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas of his "ongoing interest in California's court administration" and his willingness to take on special assignments for the court.

The timing of the resignation gives Deukmejian considerable time to select a successor and allows Arguelles the opportunity to participate in some of the more important cases pending before the court.

The justices are considering whether to review the insurance industry's challenge to Proposition 103, the sweeping insurance-rate cutback initiative approved by the voters Nov. 8. Also pending is a major case testing the limits of protections for employees who contend they have been wrongfully discharged.

Arguelles will leave the state high court just two years after he was sworn into office as one of three justices Deukmejian selected to fill vacancies created by the defeat of Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph R. Grodin in a bitterly fought November, 1986, election.

The three court members chosen by the Republican governor--Arguelles and Justices David N. Eagleson and Marcus M. Kaufman--combined with two previous Deukmejian appointees--Lucas and Justice Edward A. Panelli--to put conservatives in control of a court the liberal bloc had dominated for decades.

Regarded as Most Moderate

Arguelles was regarded as perhaps the most moderate of the three new appointees, but nonetheless he has remained aligned with the other Deukmejian nominees in all but a few major decisions.

Arguelles' resignation at this time assures that his successor will be named by Deukmejian, whose current four-year term ends in January, 1991. Thus, there is little likelihood Arguelles' departure will result in a philosophical shift on the court.

Deukmejian praised Arguelles for serving in "an exemplary manner" on the high court, as well as in his previous posts on the state Court of Appeal and Superior and Municipal courts in Los Angeles.

"During Justice Arguelles' tenure with the California Supreme Court, the high court has regained its reputation as one of the most well-respected judicial tribunals in the nation," the governor said.

Arguelles said he had found his career on the bench "important and professionally satisfying" and that his association with the other six justices on the high court had been "especially enjoyable."

"In my judgment, the Supreme Court is currently functioning as a stable, efficient and productive institution," he said.

It is expected that Deukmejian, as he has in the past, will reveal a list of potential nominees and then choose one to succeed Arguelles. A spokesman for the governor in Sacramento said Deukmejian will begin the appointment process "as quickly as possible."

Such a list of possible choices would be evaluated privately by a special commission of the State Bar. After that evaluation, the governor's final choice would be submitted for approval in public proceedings by the state Judicial Appointments Commission, made up of the chief justice, state Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp and Appellate Justice Lester W. Roth, the senior presiding justice of the state Court of Appeal.

Respected Sitting Judges

Thus far, the governor has chosen well-established and respected sitting judges in filling state Supreme Court vacancies. Panelli, Arguelles, Eagleson and Kaufman all came from the state Court of Appeal, and Lucas, the governor's former law partner, was a federal district judge before Deukmejian named him to the state high court in 1984.

Speculation is likely to center first on two appeal court justices who were among those considered for the three vacancies that arose after the defeat of Bird and the two others: Appellate Justices Hollis G. Best of Fresno and Patricia D. Benke of San Diego, a former Superior Court judge whom Deukmejian recently elevated to the appeal court. The other jurist considered previously by the governor, Appellate Justice James B. Scott of San Francisco, has retired from the bench.

Others whose names may be considered are Appellate Justices Carl West Anderson of San Francisco, Ronald M. George of Los Angeles and Daniel J. Kremer of San Diego.

In his relatively brief stay on the court, Arguelles has been known as a hard worker and is invariably friendly and courteous to staff members and outsiders.

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