Gov. Names Moderate to High Court
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Court of Appeal Justice Carol A. Corrigan, a moderate Republican, to the California Supreme Court on Friday in a move that is likely to shift the conservative-leaning court toward the center.
Corrigan, 57, a former prosecutor and a judge for 18 years, will fill the vacancy created by last summer’s departure of Justice Janice Rogers Brown, the court’s only African American and one of its most conservative members. Legal analysts and other judges generally praised Corrigan’s elevation. Many view her in the mold of Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who tends to vote with the court’s conservatives on law and order issues and with the moderates on social issues. George is often a swing vote on the court, which has only one Democrat.
“Judge Corrigan is careful, thoughtful, quick-witted, and brings a deliberate, detailoriented approach to the law,” Schwarzenegger said. “She will bring honor to California’s high court and serve the people with dignity and integrity.”
Corrigan is expected to win easy approval from a three-member judicial appointments commission headed by Chief Justice George. She will be one of three female justices on the seven-member court. Brown left to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Schwarzenegger’s announcement came amid criticism from conservatives of his choice of a former Democratic activist, Susan Kennedy, as his new chief of staff. Corrigan’s appointment generally reassured critics within the governor’s party, although conservatives favored Court of Appeal Justice Vance Raye, an African American whom Schwarzenegger was also considering, and whom Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer had criticized as being too conservative for the state.
“At least she’s a Republican,” said Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, a grass-roots organization. “She’s obviously well qualified.”
Among the most controversial cases headed to the high court is a challenge to state laws that forbid same-sex marriage. Corrigan declined to discuss her views on gay rights, but other judges said she is likely to be more sympathetic to gay-rights issues than her predecessor. Corrigan said Schwarzenegger and his aides never questioned her about the issue.
In an interview before her appointment, Corrigan repeatedly described herself as a moderate and a centrist. She switched her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 1995 after then-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed her to the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco.
“I think I would probably be a centrist anyplace I found myself,” she said. “I was a moderate Democrat, and now I am a moderate Republican.... I am moderate on virtually all things.”
She said she particularly admires U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whom she called a centrist.
Gerald F. Uelmen, an expert on the state Supreme Court, perused her appeals-court rulings Friday and concluded that Corrigan appeared to be “balanced” on criminal and civil cases.
“I don’t find any hot-button cases that would tell you much one way or another,” he said. Although she is a former prosecutor, Corrigan did not appear to be “a prosecutor in a black robe,” he said.
“I see no apparent agenda,” he said. “I think she will fit right in the middle with George and [Justice Carlos R.] Moreno,” who was appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis.
Corrigan grew up in Stockton, the only child of a newspaper reporter and a librarian. Neither parent graduated from college, but “the written word was a very big thing in our house, and being Irish, that was part of it,” she said.
“So the craft of writing and the challenge of writing is a very enjoyable part of my job,” Corrigan said.
Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Lois Haight described Corrigan as “a real wordsmith, one of the best writers I have known.”
Corrigan led a multiyear effort to make the state’s jury instructions more comprehensible, heading a task force of the California Judicial Council, the policymaking body of the court system. The new instructions, unveiled earlier this year, have won national recognition.
California Supreme Court Justice Ming W. Chin, who is part of the court’s conservative wing and previously served with Corrigan on the Court of Appeal, said Corrigan has “great people skills” and is “very collegial.” Brown often irritated her colleagues by issuing highly personal dissents, and was considered a loner on the court.
Corrigan, whose sense of humor is widely touted, “will be able to work with all the members of the court, and I think that is important when you are dealing with seven very different people,” Chin said. Chin also praised her analytical skills.
Corrigan has long been active in the Roman Catholic Church and in Catholic charities. In response to questions, she said the church’s views on such issues as abortion and homosexuality may not necessarily reflect her beliefs, nor would she ever permit her religion to influence her legal decisions.
“I was raised to believe that everybody has an obligation to inform their own conscience, and that is my understanding of the Catholic tradition as well,” she said.
“Judges,” she added, “should not impose their privately held views on the body politic.”
As a prosecutor in Alameda County, Corrigan helped send a man to death row. She said he committed suicide there. She also has worked with a crime victims’ task force.
Corrigan graduated from Holy Names College in Oakland and attended graduate school for two years in a clinical psychology program at St. Louis University. She decided she was more interested in the law, and received her degree from UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, where she was the note-and-comment editor of the law journal.
U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins noted that Corrigan does volunteer work with children in predominantly black West Oakland.
“She has a wide variety of life experiences,” Jenkins said.
Lynne Coffin, president of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, a criminal defense lawyers group, called Corrigan a good appointment.
“She has a criminal law background, which is always good,” Coffin said. “And I know people who have appeared before her and feel that she is very bright.”
A statewide prosecutors’ group had also praised Corrigan.
Frank Pitre of the Consumer Attorneys of California said the group wanted to study her record before commenting on her approach to personal injury lawsuits. But Pitre said he had heard that Corrigan was hardworking, and he praised the governor for appointing a woman.
A group that represents business interests in court cases called Corrigan “a solid choice.”
“Justice Corrigan has the intellect to deal with complexity and the common sense to value clarity,” said John H. Sullivan, president of the Civil Justice Assn. of California, a pro-business group. “Technology is making business and liability litigation increasingly complicated. She will be a special asset.”
The three-member Commission on Judicial Appointments, which must confirm Corrigan, consists by law of the chief justice, the attorney general and the senior presiding justice of the Court of Appeal. Chief Justice George is Republican, and Atty. Gen. Lockyer and Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of the Court of Appeal in Los Angeles are Democrats. Corrigan should begin serving on the state high court in January.
Schwarzenegger said the State Bar of California rated Corrigan “highly qualified” for the California Supreme Court. Bar ratings for appellate judicial nominees are “not qualified,” “qualified,” “well qualified” and “exceptionally well qualified.” A Schwarzenegger spokeswoman later refused to say exactly which rating Corrigan received.
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Carol A. Corrigan
Born: Aug. 16, 1948, in Stockton, an Irish Catholic and an only child. Her mother, Genevieve, was a librarian, and her father, Arthur, was a newspaper reporter who also drew editorial cartoons.
Previous jobs: Named by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson to the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco in 1994. Worked as a prosecutor, and for seven years as a trial judge, in Alameda County.
Education: Was student body president at Holy Names College, now University, in Oakland. Did graduate work in psychology at St. Louis University before entering UC Hastings College of the Law, receiving her degree in 1975.
Community service and awards: Led a statewide effort to rewrite jury instructions to make them easier to understand, replacing, for example, “Innocent misrecollection is not uncommon,” with, “People sometimes honestly forget things or make mistakes about what they remember.”
Has been chairwoman of the Holy Names board since 1990, and chairwoman of the board for St. Vincent’s Day Home, a child development center for impoverished children in Oakland.
Honored last year by the St. Thomas More Society of San Francisco, a Catholic lawyers group, receiving the St. Thomas More award “in public recognition of her service and dedication to the legal profession, our community, and to our church.”
Named the 2004 Jurist of the Year by the Judicial Council of California.
Political affiliation: Switched her registration from Democrat to Republican after her appointment by Wilson. Has described herself as a moderate and a centrist.
“I think people, when they come before the court, ought to have a feeling that they are in front of a judge or a group of judges who are really listening to this case and not to be burdened with the thought that Judge X always goes that way,” she said.
Personal: Her friends say she knows Irish history and can sing all the traditional Irish songs. Of course, she’s a Notre Dame fan. Colleagues mention her wit.
One of the big prizes at the annual St. Vincent’s golf tournament is named for her, the Corrigan Cup.
Is unmarried and shares a house in Oakland with a female friend.
Compiled by Jean Guccione and Maura Dolan