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Gov. Brown picks legal advisor to serve on state Supreme Court

Gov. Brown picks legal advisor to serve on state Supreme Court
Legal analysts predicted that Gov. Jerry Brown long had planned to appoint one of his advisors to the court but waited in order to use their services until the end of his administration. (Steve Yeater / Associated Press)

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday appointed Joshua Groban, a senior advisor who has helped him vet judicial candidates, to the California Supreme Court.

Like Brown’s other three appointees during his most recent Capitol stint, Groban, 45, has no judicial experience. The governor’s office said Groban has advised Brown about high-profile litigation and policy involving education, the judiciary, criminal justice, national security and constitutional interpretation.

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“Josh Groban has vast knowledge of the law and sound and practical judgment,” Brown said. “He’ll be a strong addition to California’s highest court.”

A Los Angeles resident, Groban has overseen the appointment of about 600 judges in California since 2011. He served as legal counsel to Brown’s campaign in 2010 and worked as an attorney at Munger, Tolles and Olson LLP from 2005 to 2010.

Groban will give the state high court a majority of Democratic appointees for the first time in decades when he fills the vacancy left by Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, who announced her retirement in March 2017. That has been the longest vacancy on the court in its history.

Legal analysts, speculating on why Brown failed to fill the post sooner, had predicted that he planned to appoint Groban or another aide but wanted to use their services until the end of his administration.

Brown steps down in January.

Groban, who is Jewish, was raised in Del Mar, where his mother imported folk art and his father, a psychiatrist, taught medical students. He graduated from Stanford, received a law degree from Harvard and is married to television writer and novelist Deborah Schoeneman. He currently teaches state appellate practice at UCLA’s law school.

David Ettinger, an appellate lawyer who writes a blog about the court, said Groban “probably shares a similar world view with the governor.” When he heard Groban speak at a bar event several years ago, Ettinger said, he found him to be “very receptive” in listening to others’ views about who should be named to the appellate bench.

In August, the governor submitted Groban’s name to the state bar to be evaluated for the California Court of Appeal, the bench below the Supreme Court. Ettinger said that the bar now will have to send out new questionnaires to lawyers and judges about Groban, given that his appointment is to a different court.

By law, the bar has 90 days to review a candidate. Brown will leave office sooner than that, but a spokesman said the administration had been in contact with the state bar and was confident the evaluation would be completed in time.

Once he has been evaluated, Groban will go before a three-member judicial appointments commission headed by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye. The other members are Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and J. Anthony Kline, senior presiding justice of the California Court of Appeal.

The commission routinely approves the governor’s appointees. A spokesman for the California Supreme Court said the earliest the commission could meet would be Nov. 26.

Court of Appeal Justice Arthur Gilbert, whom Brown appointed during his earlier stint as governor, said Groban “will bring scholarship, practicality, and respect for the rule of law to his decisions.”

Gilbert also said the appointment reflected “the diversity that makes our Supreme Court reflective of the society it serves,” noting that the last Jewish justice was Stanley Mosk, who died in 2001.

Brown’s other appointees on the court are Justices Goodwin H. Liu, Mariano-Florentino Cuellar and Leondra R. Kruger.

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Analysts say they have moved the court slightly to the left on criminal matters, but the three do not vote as a bloc.

5:45 p.m.: This article was updated with more details on Groban and the appointment process.

This article originally published at 3:20 p.m.

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