As California's political institutions sink further into partisan gridlock and suffer increasing failures of accountability, the state's court system remains a model of independence and thoughtful balance. In some other states, political parties and moneyed interests run judicial campaigns and try to con voters into stacking the bench or guaranteeing a particular verdict or ruling. Here, justices of the state Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeal are vetted by attorneys and judges, appointed by the governor, confirmed by a panel that includes the attorney general and the chief justice, and ultimately submitted for an up-or-down vote by the electorate. They come back to the voters every 12 years — a long enough term to keep them from becoming full-time politicians while still compelling them to remain accountable to the public.
On Nov. 2, voters statewide will choose whether to seat Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's selection as the state's chief justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, and whether to reconfirm two associate justices, Ming W. Chin and Carlos R. Moreno. The Times urges a yes vote on all three.
Cantil-Sakauye was an inspired choice as chief justice to succeed Ronald M. George, who opted to retire in January rather than seek another 12-year term. She is a political moderate focused more on the fair administration of justice than on ideology. A Sacramento native, she was legal affairs advisor for Gov. George Deukmejian before serving 14 years as a trial judge and the last six as an appellate justice. As chief justice, she would be the state's top advocate for judicial independence, adequate court funding and equal access to justice for all Californians. Her record on the state Judicial Council shows she is up to the task.
Chin spent his legal and judicial career in Alameda County before his appointment to the state high court in 1996. He is known as a meticulous and thoughtful centrist. Moreno, a graduate of Los Angeles' Lincoln High School, gave up a lifetime appointment to the federal bench in 2001 to accept an appointment to the state Supreme Court. The soft-spoken justice has been a leader in efforts to improve court oversight of children in foster care.
In addition to weighing in on Supreme Court justices, voters in our region are asked to give up-or-down votes to the justices of the 2nd District Court of Appeal. The court is divided into eight divisions, most of which hear appeals of cases that originated in Los Angeles County, except for Division 6, which takes appeals from trial courts in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. There are 13 incumbents in the 2nd District — and all have served with distinction and warrant an additional term. The Times urges a yes vote on Justices Robert M. Mallano, Victoria G. Chaney and Jeffrey W. Johnson (Division 1); Judith Ashmann (Division 2); Walter Croskey (Division 3); Steven Suzukawa (Division 4); Orville "Jack" Armstrong (Division 5); Paul Coffee and Steven Z. Perren (Division 6); Laurie D. Zelon and Frank Y. Jackson (Division 7); and Tricia A. Bigelow and Elizabeth Annette Grimes (Division 8).