California Bar Journal
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Board to bench: a good track record
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In addition to Yew's work on the board and her previous day job practicing law, Yew has served as a volunteer judge pro tempore and as a court-appointed arbitrator. She also has been honored for her pro bono work and is active in a variety of civic and professional groups. In addition, she is a past president of the Asian Pacific Bar Association of the Silicon Valley.

Yew said she found that applying for appointment was a complex process based on merit and the recommendations of respected individuals. She believes that serving as a State Bar board member helped raise her profile in the community and showed an important vote of confidence to the governor.

"To get on the board of governors, you have to have demonstrated your worthiness," she said. "People aren't going to vote for you if you've never shown any dedication to volunteer service."

Erica Yew was sworn in as a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge last month.San Diego attorney John Davies, former judicial appointments secretary for Gov. Pete Wilson, said that, among other qualities, Wilson considered whether candidates were "contributing members of the community." State Bar board experience would qualify, he said, but would not have carried any more weight than other community service, such as serving on a city planning commission.

"Every candidate is a bundle of different sticks," he said. "You really need to look at that particular candidate."

Davies said he suspects that a high percentage of judges also exists among former county bar presidents. "It demonstrates to the appointing power that you're highly respected by your colleagues," he said. "It means something to a governor who's looking at something on paper."

State Bar records indicate that at least 26 of the 181 attorneys elected or appointed to the State Bar's board since 1971 have become judges. Stretching back to 1927, the number is 45 out of 410 board members. Some of the bar's early records, however, offer limited information.

While data was unavailable to show the percentage of attorneys from the general attorney population who join the bench over time, the sheer number of attorneys versus judges suggests the percentage would be lower. Currently, state and federal judges in California total less than 2,000. In addition, fewer than 3,100 California judges - from municipal court judges to Supreme Court justices - have entered the judges' retirement system since 1937, according to California Public Employees Retirement System records. In contrast, roughly 215,000 attorneys have joined California's State Bar since 1927. The number of active and inactive California attorneys currently is nearing 175,000.

Rob Waring, legislative counsel to the California Judges Association, suggested that State Bar board members may have an aptitude and interest in some areas that are useful in judging, he said. For example, they have experience in elections or at least a tolerance for them, he said.

"There's also some sort of interest in making judgments about things that lawyers do, in looking at the profession and making judgments about issues concerning the profession of law," he said. "Judges look at the conduct of lawyers every day."

Fresno Superior Court Judge Robert H. Oliver said he never considered seeking appointment or election to the bench when he served on the State Bar's board. But his board experience may have influenced his later decision to seek appointment.

"My observation of members of the board of governors is then and now that the experience of serving seems to be a precursor to a lifestyle change," he said. "And that has evidenced itself by changes in law firms. It has evidenced itself by changes in marital status. It has evidenced itself in changes in practice emphasis or specialization, which would include members of the board who have gone on to become members of the bench."

Oliver, who was appointed to the bench in 1995 by Gov. Wilson, suggested that State Bar board experience opens an attorney's mind to new possibilities. "The opportunity for service as a member of the board carries with it the opportunity for a thought process and reflection that many of us perhaps didn't have in the day-to-day practice of law," he said.

In addition, he said, he found fellow board members to be hard-charging, ambitious, hardworking and bright - "all traits that lead one to some measure of success and some measure of accomplishment."

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lawrence W. Crispo, also a former State Bar board member and a Wilson appointee, said he regularly encourages his law student externs to become involved in community and bar activities. Crispo stresses that such activities will broaden their horizons, introduce them to a "superb group of people" and help them lead more rewarding lives professionally and personally. The number of former board members who have gone on to the bench, he says, ties in with his message.

"I would say it validates the importance of public service activities and community activities and bar activities," he said.

Pauline Weaver, a former State Bar board member and the current chair of the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE), is not surprised by the percentage of judges among former board members.

"My immediate reaction is that the people who become involved in the bar are going to be leaders in other areas," she said. "Those are naturally the kind of people whom you would expect to apply for judicial positions."

As chair of the volunteer commission which investigates judicial candidates for the governor, Weaver also points out that the JNE Commission gets a better return on its confidential evaluation forms when candidates are well-known in the community. The respondents often know them better and have seen them in various roles, she said, which helps the evaluation process.

As for why so many former State Bar board members wind up as judges, Weaver suggests: "They get involved. . . . I think it has to do with involvement rather than the bar board in particular."