Five years ago, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated former state Senator Charles Poochigian to the state Court of Appeal. He was evaluated by the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation and given the lowest rating, Not Qualified. This was not because of his personal characteristics. On the contrary, reported
Kenneth Ofgang in the Metropolitan News-Enterprise at the time,
JNE Commission Chair Jonathan Wolf of San Francisco wrote to the chief justice that the nominee "is intelligent, diligent, and articulate...is an independent thinker, courteous, and even tempered...works well under pressure and demonstrates courage, compassion, and common sense...is a hardworker...and...is committed to public service."
So what was the problem? There was one and only one.
But Poochigian's legal background does not qualify him for the appellate bench, Wolf said, explaining:
"He had not practiced law for approximately 21 years and had not litigated a case in approximately the same amount of time. Moreover, he has no jury trials and no criminal law experience."
The commission did consider Poochigian's experience in the Legislature, including his work on criminal law issues as vice chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, but did not find this sufficient, Wolf related.
Why bring this up five years later? Governor Jerry Brown recently nominated Stanford Law Professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar to the California Supreme Court. His CV
, while otherwise impressive, is devoid of practical legal experience. Does the JNE Commission have a problem with that? Oh, heavens to Betsy, no. "A state bar evaluating commission gave Cuellar ... its highest rating: exceptionally well qualified," reports
Maura Dolan in the LA Times.
Does an otherwise well qualified nominee with little, no, or stale practical legal experience deserve the highest rating or the lowest? The answer, if the rating is done by the California State Bar's commission, depends entirely on political alignment.
Claims that removing judicial nomination functions from elected officials and turning them over to bar committees will remove politics from the process are complete hokum.