James M. Humes, appointed a top staff member Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown, is a lawyer who established a reputation in the attorney general’s office as an affable, loyal and decisive manager who protected Brown but was not afraid to disagree with him.
Brown named Humes executive secretary for administration, legal affairs and policy at a salary of $175,000 a year. The job, akin to a chief of staff, does not need Senate confirmation.
Humes ran the attorney general’s office under Brown, overseeing a staff of 5,300, including 1,100 lawyers, and gave up a likely judicial appointment to continue to serve his old boss. Humes is a Democrat.
Former colleagues in the attorney general’s office said Wednesday that Humes was a strong leader because the staff liked and trusted him. They described him as a creative administrator with a knack for shaping job duties and structures to accommodate budget cuts, and a forthright manager who took pains to ensure that employees knew where their jobs stood.
“He is a very practical person,” said Frances Grunder, senior assistant attorney general. “He is measured — not overly quiet or exuberant — but very thoughtful and considerate. Honestly, he gets along well with everybody.
“I would say he was adored at the Department of Justice.”
Humes had applied for a judgeship and was expected to be named to the bench by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Humes took himself out of the running to work with the new governor, confirmed Susan Kennedy, Schwarzenegger’s former chief of staff, who described Humes as a “highly qualified” judicial candidate. Humes’ friends expect that Brown will eventually make him a judge.
Humes, 51, is openly gay and was among the thousands who married in California during the six months in 2008 when same-sex marriage was permitted. He played a key role in crafting Brown’s unsuccessful challenge of Proposition 8 before the California Supreme Court.
The novel legal theory at the heart of the challenge failed to obtain a single justice’s vote. The gay-marriage ban is now being challenged in federal court.
Humes lives in San Francisco with his spouse, a lawyer. Born in Iowa, he attended college in Illinois and law school at the University of Denver in Colorado.
He is an avid swimmer and runner who often left his San Francisco home at 4 a.m. to exercise before starting work at 8:30 a.m. in the attorney general’s Sacramento office, which he visited about twice a week, colleagues said. He reads about history and works on his home during his spare time.
“He is extraordinarily intelligent and equally pragmatic, which is a somewhat rare combination, and an absolute joy to work with and for,” said Grunder, Humes’ colleague for nearly 17 years.
She described him as “very funny, with a dry and quick sense of humor.”
Humes had been in charge of the attorney general’s civil section under former Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer. As Brown’s chief deputy, Humes worked closely with Brown, conferring with him several times a day.
“I know Jim would give Jerry his best advice, which Jerry may not necessarily have liked sometimes, but Jim was not a yes man,” said California Solicitor General Manuel Medeiros.
Humes worked for the Colorado attorney general’s office before taking a job with the California attorney general. He was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1990.
“He has a very high sense of duty, and I think public service really attracts him,” Madeiros said.
Colleagues said Humes worked nights and weekends for Brown. Ever polite and respectful, Humes was good at building consensus, they said.
“Jim likes challenging problems,” Madeiros said. “He is definitely not a guy to sit back and take it easy.”
Jim Finefrock, Brown’s communication director in the attorney general’s office, said Humes was closely involved in every aspect of the state Department of Justice.
“He has a good feeling about people,” Finefrock said. “He works well with them. He is a good leader because people follow him, not by force or dictate, but because they like him.”