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Gov. Brown picks top aide for California high court vacancy

November 15, 2018

This undated photo provided by the Office of the Governor of California shows Joshua Groban. With only weeks left in office, Gov. Jerry Brown named Groban, 45, one of his senior advisers Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, to fill a long-running vacancy on the California Supreme Court. The Democratic governor nominated Groban, of Los Angeles, who has overseen Brown's appointment of about 600 judges since 2011. Brown said the appointments have been praised as the most diverse in state history. (Office of the Governor of California via AP)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — With only weeks left in office, Gov. Jerry Brown named one of his senior advisers Wednesday to fill a long-running vacancy on the California Supreme Court.

The Democratic governor nominated Joshua Groban, 45, of Los Angeles, who has overseen Brown’s appointment of about 600 judges since 2011. Brown said the appointments have been praised as the most diverse in state history.

Groban is the fourth person Brown has named to the seven-member court. If confirmed, he would give the court a majority of Democratic appointees for the first time since voters rejected former Chief Justice Rose Bird and two other Brown appointees in 1986, during his first two terms as governor, said appellate lawyer David Ettinger, who writes a blog about the court.

Groban “has vast knowledge of the law and sound and practical judgment” and will be a strong addition to California’s highest court, Brown said in announcing his pick.

Groban, a Democrat, would be paid $253,189 a year.

Brown waited nearly two years to move to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar.

“I am truly humbled by this nomination and, if confirmed, I look forward to working alongside the highest court’s truly exemplary jurists,” Groban said in a statement.

The nomination now goes to the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation and must be confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. Brown’s office expects Groban to take the bench before the governor leaves office in January.

Groban has four years before he would have to face voters for a retention decision. Justices serve 12-year terms.

He would be the court’s first Jewish justice since 2001, though two other Jewish justices have served previously. Presiding Second District Court of Appeal Justice Arthur Gilbert said in a statement provided by the governor’s office that the choice “reflects the diversity that makes our Supreme Court reflective of the society it serves.”

Groban would be the first white male justice on the highly diverse court since Justice Marvin Baxter left in 2015, Ettinger said. He called Groban a “very solid choice” who influenced Brown’s prior three “excellent appointments.” Groban would become a colleague of those three judges.

Brown previously appointed justices Goodwin Liu, Mariano-Florentino Cuellar and Leondra Kruger. Like Groban, none was a judge prior to being appointed.

The court issues most of its opinions as unanimous decisions, so there is unlikely to be a public divide between the court’s Democratic and Republican blocs, Ettinger said, though Groban may influence which cases are selected for review.

Court of Appeal justices have been helping the high court while it was short-handed, but they have been included in majority decisions only twice since Werdegar left, he said. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has said the court delayed rulings in some cases where there was a three-three split.

Groban also advised Brown on lawsuits and policy decisions involving education, the judiciary, criminal justice, national security and constitutional interpretation, the governor’s office said.

He was legal counsel for Brown’s gubernatorial campaign in 2010, a private attorney from 1999 to 2010, and a law clerk for U.S. District Judge William Conner in New York from 1998 to 1999.

He received his law degree from Harvard Law School. He is married to television writer Deborah Schoeneman and they have two children.

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