Deukmejian Trying to ‘Pack’ Court, Law Professors Charge

Times Staff Writer

A group of 242 law professors accused Gov. George Deukmejian Thursday of opposing Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and two other justices on the fall ballot so that he could “pack” the state Supreme Court with his own judicial appointees.

The professors, releasing a petition circulated at 12 California law schools, asserted that the governor was urging the defeat of Bird and Associate Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph R. Grodin “solely for their politically unpopular stands . . . rather than for any lack of qualification on their part.”

A spokesman, Dean Gerald Uelman of the University of Santa Clara Law School, said that Deukmejian and all other elected officials should “stay out” of judicial retention elections.

“The risk is that we erode the principle that a judicial office is nonpartisan,” Uelman said. “We are putting judges in the position of seeking endorsements . . . and in a position where their decisions may affect their stock with elected officials.”


Copies of the professors’ petition were released at news conferences held here and in other cities by the Independent Citizens’ Committee to Keep Politics Out of the Court, an organization supporting confirmation of all six justices on the ballot next Tuesday.

Spokesmen said that the professors who signed the statement criticizing Deukmejian and urging retention of the justices accounted for over half of the faculty at the 12 law schools.

The list included faculty members from UCLA, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Davis, Stanford, USC, University of San Francisco, Hastings College of the Law, University of Santa Clara, University of San Diego, Golden Gate University, Whittier College and Loyola Law School.

Deukmejian, a Republican, has made the court a central issue in his campaign for reelection, asserting that Bird, Reynoso and Grodin--all appointed by Democratic Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.--have followed their personal views rather than the law in consistently voting to overturn death sentences imposed on convicted murderers.

Donna Lipper, a campaign spokeswoman for the governor, said in response to the professors’ claims that “what the governor wants and what California needs is to ‘unpack’ the court, because it’s been ‘packed’ for years with appointees of Jerry Brown.”

“Their philosophies have carried over into the way they make decisions,” she said of the Brown appointees.

“The governor feels that one of his major responsibilities is appointing judges and that the people of California have a right to know what kind of judges are going on the court,” she said.

The professors said in their petition that it is “dangerous and destructive” to inject partisan politics into a judicial election.


They said that although Deukmejian had focused attention on the three Brown appointees’ records on capital punishment, “the tenor of his opposition suggests a desire to ‘pack the court’ with hand-picked successors.”

3 Others on Ballot

At present, there are two Deukmejian appointees on the seven-member court--Justices Malcolm M. Lucas and Edward A. Panelli. Both are on the ballot along with Justice Stanley Mosk, an appointee of Democratic Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, but none of these three face organized opposition.

At the news conference here, Uelman predicted a “major reshaping” of the court should Bird, Reynoso and Grodin be removed by the voters.


The court, he noted, had been at the “cutting edge” of the law for about 30 years, issuing decisions in criminal, personal injury and other cases that were often the first of their kind in the nation.

‘To Change Direction’

“The agenda of opponents of the justices is to change the direction of the court,” Uelman said. “They want to make the court less responsive to the need to shape the law to conform with changes in our society.”

Prof. Louis Schwartz of Hastings College of the Law distributed a list of 40 court rulings issued during Bird’s nine-year tenure that he described as “pro-prosecution,” indicating that the justices had followed “a rather hard line” on criminal cases.


Among others, Schwartz cited a decision upholding a new state law making it easier to convict drunk drivers, a ruling allowing a conviction for rape even where the victim did not physically resist her attacker and a holding that private security guards need not warn shoplifting suspects they arrest of their constitutional rights to silence and legal counsel.