Friday, November 20, 2009

Passing the Bar

Three young friends learned today that they passed the bar and will soon join the ranks of California's lawyers. I congratulate them and all the other lawyers-to-be and to those who did not pass this time I would say let yourself experience the disappointment but remember, it's just a set-back, a challenge you can and will overcome. There are a number of people in our profession, including a couple of former Governors, who did not pass the first time. Remember: tests are snapshots, not judgments. Also, most of what is worth doing carries the possibility of not succeeding. I know that running for office carries the possibility of losing but that is no reason not to run and to run hard. One of the aphorisms I live by comes from the novelist Doris Lessing who wrote: What does it matter if you fail? Why are you so arrogant? Just begin.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why Do You Want to Be a Judge?

Someone asked me this question last week. I don't think I'd been asked before possibly because most people I've been talking to are judges or lawyers and for them the answer is self-evident. But it's a good question and one I expect that I will be asked by voters many times in the next few months. The short answer is: I want to be an instrument of justice.

The longer answer is: I have had personal experience of discriminatory laws and unjust court decisions. I grew up in a neighborhood in Sacramento that was one of the few places in the county where my Mexican immigrant grandparents could buy property because of restrictive covenants that prohibited homeowners from selling to blacks or Mexicans. My mother told me how she and her sisters were turned away from a public swimming pool because they were Mexican and how my uncle David was punished at school for speaking Spanish. I myself attended segregated schools -- segregated in fact, if not in law -- until I was in middle school.

I also remember that morning in 1986 when I sat in my office at the law firm I worked at and read the Supreme Court's decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, the case that said that states had a right to criminalize homosexual conduct because "there is no constitutional right to homosexual sodomy." As I read those words I felt a rage I have rarely ever felt because here was the highest court in the land -- whose justices had sworn the same oath as me to protect and defend the constitution -- branding me a second-class citizen in the most contemptuous language I'd ever read in a legal opinion.

One of the lessons I've drawn from these experiences is that justice depends not only on the laws but on who is interpreting and applying the law. I want to be a judge because equality before the law isn't just a legal principle to me, it is my entire reason for being a lawyer. I will the kind of judge who treats everyone with respect, who provides to everyone a full and fair hearing, and who strives to reach a just result. I will be the kind of judge that our system depends upon: rigorously honest, impartial and independent. and I will be that kind of judge because of my experience. In my court, there will no room for stereotypes, biases or sloppy thinking. Mine will be a court of justice.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


I joked to a friend last night that running for office seems mostly to consist of calling up everyone I have ever known and asking him or her for a contribution. I've raised money in the past for causes I believe in, and I have contributed freely to those causes, and many others, but it is a bit more challenging to call on my own behalf. My decision to run for this office is motivated out my desire to be of service. I think the breadth of my experience as a lawyer in my 28 years of practice, including what amounts to a kind of judicial apprenticeship working for two extraordinary judges, has uniquely prepared me for the bench. It is my hope that when the voters learn about me, my temperament, and my qualifications, they will come to the same conclusion. But I have to get the word out and this is where the money comes in. The cause I am advocating this time is my own and I am grateful to the friends who are making it their cause as well.