A Celebration of the Life of Governor George Deukmejian by Justice Marvin Baxter

GOVERNOR GEORGE DEUKMEJIAN

A CELEBRATION OF LIFE

By Justice Marvin Baxter

June 9, 2018

 

Justice Baxter (left) with Governor Deukmejian (right) accompanied by their wives.

We join together this afternoon to celebrate the life of Governor George Deukmejian, who was a wonderful person and a great governor.  I am delighted to be here with so many other former employees, and long time friends, associates, and supporters of the Governor.

Gloria, thank you for inviting me to speak on the Governor’s contributions to California’s judiciary.

Before doing so, we all thank and commend you for your unbridled support during the Governor’s 28 years of public service, the dignity, class and contributions you made as First Lady of California, and for providing for his care and comfort, especially during his final years of declining health.

I had the honor and privilege to serve as the Governor’s Appointments Secretary for 6 years, from when he took office in 1983 until I joined the Court of Appeal in the fall of 1988.  My job was to serve as the Governor’s principal advisor on appointments to the executive and judicial branches of state government.

When I became an appellate justice, my Chief Deputy succeeded me as Appointments Secretary and very ably served for the final two years of the administration.  Let me provide a little “Inside Baseball” and explain how that came about.  It illustrates just how perceptive the Governor was.

Gaddi Vasquez became my Chief Deputy at the beginning of the second term, but soon left to accept the Governor’s appointment to a vacancy on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.  I confided to the Governor that I was having trouble finding the right person to replace Gaddi.  After pondering the issue for a few moments, the Governor asked whether Tim Flanigan, my Chief Deputy during the first term, had done a good job.  I responded that “Yes, Tim was great.”  The Governor looked at me, stroked his chin, and then said, “You know he has a twin brother.”   I took it from there.  So, that’s the “Inside Edition” of how Terry Flanigan became Chief Deputy and later succeeded me as Appointments Secretary.

George Deukmejian viewed the appointment of judges as a governor’s most important responsibility.  He made that crystal clear.  When asked in 1982 why he decided to run as an underdog for governor instead of seeking a safe re-election as Attorney General, his answer was short and to the point.  “Governors appoint judges – Attorney Generals do not.”

That power and responsibility is especially true in California.  California has the largest judicial system in the western world, consisting of approximately 2,000 trial judges, over 100 court of appeal justices, and 7 members of the supreme court.  A California governor will make more judicial appointments during any given period of time than will the President of the United States.  Governor Deukmejian made over 1,000 judicial appointments during his two terms of office.

The Governor clearly defined his goals and objectives for the judicial appointments process and we made every effort to faithfully implement them.

He filled judicial vacancies in a timely manner, recognizing that the public’s access to justice should not be unreasonably delayed.

Justice Baxter (left) with Governor Deukmejian (right).

He sought to appoint highly qualified “common sense” judges and considered prior judicial and court room experience as very important qualification factors.  He favored the consideration of a small group of finalists for any particular vacancy and welcomed evaluations from the State Bar and from a number of other bar associations.  He formed his own Judicial Selection Advisory Boards to help recruit and evaluate judicial applicants.  In doing so, he received the input of judges, lawyers, law enforcement officials, and community leaders that he knew and respected.  He welcomed as much input as possible, good or bad.    Simply put, he wanted all the cards on the table before making a judicial appointment.

He recognized the importance of diversity in the courts and the challenge presented with women and minorities grossly underrepresented in the legal profession.  He supported implementation of the “So You Want to Become a Judge” program, sponsored by the California Women Lawyers Association, that provided for seminars throughout the State.  He encouraged his Appointment Secretaries to participate in the seminars and to encourage more applications from underrepresented groups, so as to enhance his opportunity to make the courts more reflective of the diversity within their communities.  I’m proud to say that all administrations have followed the Governor’s lead in supporting this program.

Governor Deukmejian’s record of appointing judges was well received and helped restore the public’s respect for the judicial branch.  Consider, for example, the impact of his appointments to the Supreme Court.

During his first term, the Governor appointed two seasoned jurists, Malcolm Lucas and Ed Panelli, to the Supreme Court.  After the 1986 confirmation election, he made Malcolm Lucas Chief Justice and elevated court of appeal justices John Arguelles, Marcus Kaufman, and David Eagleson to the high court.  Later in his second term, he elevated court of appeal justices Joyce Kennard, Armand Arabian, and me to the Supreme Court.

His influence didn’t stop there.  A number of Deukmejian judges were later elevated to the Supreme Court by other governors.  Justices Ron George, Ming Chin and Janice Rogers Brown were elevated by Governor Wilson, with Justice George replacing Malcolm Lucas as Chief Justice.  Governor Davis elevated Judge Carlos Moreno and Governor Schwarzenegger elevated Justices Carol Corrigan and Tani Cantil-Sakouye, with the latter succeeding Ron George as Chief Justice.  As a young lawyer, Tani Cantil served in the legal and legislative units of the administration, prior to her initial judicial appointment by Governor Deukmejian.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye and Justices Chin and Corrigan, all initially appointed judges by Governor Deukmejian, are current members of the Supreme Court – some 27 years after the Governor left office.  To say that Governor Deukmejian made substantial and positive contributions to our courts is an understatement.

Serving as Governor Deukmejian’s Appointments Secretary was a “Dream Job.”  The work was very important and fulfilling and I had an excellent staff.  Most importantly, I had a great boss.  His personal attributes were outstanding and he earned our highest respect.

We worked hard, but he made it enjoyable to do so.  He wasn’t above “ribbing” himself and sometime others, but it was always done in a good natured and heartwarming way.  The one closest to home was at my retirement reception in 1988.  After complimenting my work as Appointments Secretary, he qualified that by emphasizing that my greatest contribution to the State was moonlighting as his charisma coach.

Governor, we’re going to miss you.  May you rest in peace.

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