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Moderate picked for the Supreme Court

The Commission on Judicial Appointments was set to consider the nomination of state Appellate Justice Carol Corrigan to the Supreme Court early this month after she was named to the court by Gov. Schwarzenegger, an appointment that is widely believed will solidify the court’s moderate balance.

Carol Corrigan

The governor described the 57-year-old Corrigan as a brilliant jurist and someone who “is careful, thoughtful, quick-witted and brings a deliberate, detail-oriented approach to the law.” He said he was looking for a jurist with “strong experience, unimpeachable character and someone who is widely respected,” and found those characteristics in Corrigan.

A popular and respected member of the bench, Corrigan is considered a moderate who is tough on law and order issues and more moderate on social questions. Standing beside the governor when he made his announcement, she said that “the cornerstone of [her] judicial philosophy is the law doesn’t belong to judges, it belongs to people and it belongs to all of us. It’s important for judges to listen to the voice of the people and follow the law.”

Corrigan told reporters that hot-button issues, such as same-sex marriage, were not raised by the governor in interviews.

U.S. District Court Judge Martin Jenkins, a longtime friend of Corrigan, described her as the right person for the job. “Intellectually, she’s very accomplished, she has a good broad life experience to bring perspective to weighty issues, she’s humble and doesn’t take herself too seriously, and she will listen to colleagues and lawyers alike in resolving issues,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think you can ask for anything more.”

He described Corrigan as “a very fair-minded person” who takes her responsibilities seriously.

If confirmed, Corrigan will replace Janice Rogers Brown, elevated by President Bush to the Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., who is more conservative and sometimes threw slings at her colleagues in her opinions. The appointment will leave the court with no African-Americans, and its current makeup of three women and four men, and just one Democrat, will remain intact. Corrigan switched her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 1994.

The Commission on Judicial Appointments consists of Chief Justice Ronald George, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Joan Dempsey Klein, the state’s senior presiding appellate judge. Although both George and Klein declined comment before the hearing, Lockyer said in a statement that the governor “has nominated a very strong candidate. . . . Justice Corrigan has a distinguished history both as a judge and a practicing attorney. I look forward to reviewing her qualifications and carefully considering her nomination.

Lockyer had criticized Vance Raye, the only other judge on Schwarzenegger’s short list, for rejecting a racial discrimination claim filed by black employees.

Corrigan began her judicial service in the Alameda County Municipal Court after working as a deputy district attorney and then a senior deputy district attorney in Alameda County from 1975-1987. She was appointed a judge of the Emeryville Piedmont Judicial District in 1987 and served on the Alameda Superior Court from 1991-1994, when she was appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson to the First District Court of Appeal.

She has been active in the judicial community, serving on the boards of numerous organizations, including the Judicial Council, and has taught at several law schools. Most recently, she completed eight years as co-chair of the Task Force on Jury Instructions, where she led the effort to simplify criminal jury instructions.

A native of Stockton, Corrigan is the daughter of a journalist father and librarian mother. She was student body president and graduated with honors from Holy Names College in Oakland, where she later served as chair of the board of trustees. After a couple of years of graduate study in a clinical psychology program at St. Louis University, she switched gears and enrolled at Hastings College of the Law, where she was the Note and Comment editor of the Law Journal. She received her law degree in 1975.

She also has a long resume of community service and awards that include the 2004 Jurist of the Year Award, given by the Judicial Council, and the St. Thomas More Award, presented last year by the St. Thomas More Society of San Francisco in “recognition of her service and dedication to the legal profession, our community, and to our church.” She has served as chair of the board for St. Vincent’s Day Home, a child development center for poor children in Oakland.

Corrigan is known for her quick wit and self-deprecating sense of humor. “One of the things that marks Carol is she’s able to defuse hot-button issues with her adroit sense of humor,” Jenkins said. “In large measure, it helps her keep perspective.”

He described an incident when Corrigan was presiding over a mock “trial of the century” at a downtown San Francisco hotel ballroom, filled with more than 1,500 people and beamed to a larger audience on closed circuit TV. “In comes Corrigan,” Jenkins recalled, “and she ascends the dais. All of a sudden, the judge is nowhere to be seen. She flips over. Everybody was holding their breath.

“As quick as you can imagine, Carol pops her head up and says, ‘Is there a good lawyer in the house?’”

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