California Bar Journal
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Moreno sworn in as Supreme Court's only Latino justice
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Continued from Page 1
spacer.gif (810 bytes)

oath of office from Gov. Gray Davis.

"Much has been made of Judge Moreno being a Latino," Davis said. "But I did not pick Judge Moreno be-cause of his ethnicity. I picked him because he is the best judge for the job."

There was no disagreement from any of the speakers at the commission's hearing, who variously described the 53-year-old Yale University and Stanford Law School graduate as fair, intelligent, diligent, compassionate, dedicated and gifted.

"He is a lawyer's dream," said Fred Alvarez, a law school buddy who is a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. "His career is a study in focus, a study in achievement and a study in commitment. He is a dedicated and gifted judge . . . who will not waver."

Retired California Court of Appeal Justice Elwood Lui said he first met Moreno 25 years ago when Moreno was an assistant city attorney and Lui was a municipal court judge. Moreno won all the cases he tried before Lui.

"He is an American success story," Lui told the commission. "He achieved his success the old-fashioned way - by being devoted and committed to his work, to his family and to his community."

Carlos MorenoLui and others praised Moreno for his community involvement, particularly the encouragement and mentoring he has provided to young people thinking about college and law school. Asked by Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who sits as a member of the commission, which aspect of his community service he considers the most significant, Moreno said it was his role as a mentor. "It's always been up to me to help counsel and guide others and help others, particularly in the profession," he said.

Moreno, the Supreme Court's only Democrat, replaces the late Justice Stanley Mosk, who died June 19 after serving almost 37 years, the longest tenure of any Supreme Court justice in California.

In joining the state's highest court, he relinquished his seat on the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, a lifetime appointment made three years ago by President Clinton. Moreno said he was willing to give up that job because sitting as a Supreme Court justice will allow him to "really address critical cutting-edge issues involving social policy" and to contribute to "decisions about what direction the law is going to take."

The son of a cheese-and-produce business owner, Moreno was a top student and three-sport athlete in high school. He began his legal career in 1975, joining the Los Angeles city attorney's office, where he spent four years prosecuting misdemeanor crimes and handling consumer-fraud cases.

He moved on to private practice with the Los Angeles law firms of Mori & Ota and Kelley, Drye & Warren from 1979 to 1986, developing a commercial litigation practice in both state and federal courts, handling bankruptcy, employment, banking, real estate and antitrust litigation.

Moreno also served as president of the Mexican American Bar Association in 1982.

Gov. George Deukmejian named him to the Compton Municipal Court in 1986, and he was appointed to the Los Angeles Superior Court by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1993. He joined the federal bench in 1998.

Highly respected and well-liked by colleagues, Moreno has been described as a cautious jurist with a reputation for hard work, evenhandedness and intelligent rulings. "He has the type of intellect and curiosity that makes you feel like he'll consider your case fairly," Alvarez said. Despite being a longtime friend, though, Alvarez said he had no idea how Moreno will rule on any given issue.

Moreno said he decides cases on their merits, and is not influenced by the popularity of an issue or who is lobbying for or against. "I'm a firm believer in judicial independence," he said.

Gov. Davis acknowledged that filling the vacancy created by Mosk's death was a daunting task. He noted that of the four candidates he sent to the Commission on Judicial Nomi-nees Evaluation (JNE) for investigation, Moreno was the only one to receive an "exceptionally well qualified" rating, the commission's highest rating, from all 29 JNE members.

In its report to Davis, the commission said Moreno "stands apart from others based on his personal and professional qualities. He is revered for his skills, breadth of experience, honesty, integrity, wisdom, fairness, his ability to dispense justice with diligence, hard work, respect for precedent and compassion."

Latino groups had lobbied hard for Moreno's appointment. The 111th Supreme Court justice, Moreno is only the third Latino to sit on the bench in its history. The first, Justice Cruz Reynoso, left the court in 1986 and Justice John Arguelles served for two years until 1989.