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State commission confirms new California Supreme Court nominee

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Joshua Groban, 45, has become the newest member of the California Supreme Court.
(Office of the Governor of California via AP)

Joshua P. Groban, a Los Angeles lawyer who has advised Gov. Brown on judicial appointments, high profile litigation, prison issues and immigration, Friday became the newest member of the California Supreme Court.

The three-member state Commission on Judicial Appointments unanimously confirmed Groban’s appointment after a short hearing in which there was no opposition.

Groban, 45, gives the seven-member court a majority of Democratic appointees for the first time in decades.

And like Brown’s other three appointees on the state high court, Groban has no previous judicial experience.

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Presiding 1st Dist. Court of Appeal Justice J. Anthony Kline, a member of the appointments commission, recalled that Groban once told him he thought Brown’s fourth appointee to the court should come from the judicial ranks, a view Kline said he endorsed.

“There are people in the judicial and legal community who don’t think it is healthy for a court to be dominated...by people who have never sat in the judicial trenches,” Kline said.

Even so, Kline added, he believed Groban would be a “good judge.”

He said he was simply asking whether “it is healthy to have a court on which only a minority of members” have presided over a trial or served on the intermediate courts of appeal.

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Witnesses who testified in Groban’s favor noted that Groban has vetted hundreds of judicial candidates for the governor and knows what qualities a good judge must possess.

Groban told the commission that the three justices with the most seniority on the court, who are Republican appointees, have a combined 89 years of judicial experience, “ a staggeringly impressive number.”

He said he was sure he would be “enriched” by their experience as well as the backgrounds of Brown’s other appointees.

“The court really has the luxury quite frankly in this raucous political climate of being duty bound to distance itself from political considerations,” he said.

Still, he added, “each justice brings with him or her a sense of who they are and their values,”

A state bar evaluation committee found Groban to be exceptionally well qualified, the bar’s highest rating.

“Raters uniformly support his appointment to the court and describe him as having a sharp mind, keen powers of observation, effective listening skills and an uncommon ability to communicate,” the bar committee reported.

Groban received his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1995 and his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1998.

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As a law student, he assisted Harvard professor Charles Ogletree on death penalty appeals and served as a member of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.

After graduation, he worked as a commercial litigator.

Groban served as general counsel for Brown’s gubernatorial campaign in 2010 and after the election became a senior advisor.

In addition to evaluating judicial candidates for Brown, Groban has advised Brown on criminal justice and court matters, regulatory reform, consumer protection and corrections.

Brown has appointed nearly 600 judges in his last two terms, and the bar committee described them as “the most diverse group of appointees” in state history in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and practice background.

First District Court of Appeal Justice Therese M. Stewart, addressing the commission, said Brown, with Groban’s help, had strongly increased the number of minority and LGBTQ judges on the California bench.

Groban will make up what he lacks in judicial experience “because that is the kind of guy Josh is,” she said

He assumes the seat left vacant by the retirement of Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar in 2017.

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Brown took nearly two years to fill the vacancy, the longest in court history. Legal analysts speculated that Brown had considered early on appointing Groban but wanted to keep him as an advisor until the end of Brown’s term.

Brown leaves office next month.

maura.dolan@latimes.com

Twitter: @mauradolan


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