Sometimes elected, sometimes appointed - judges have multiple pathways to the bench in California.
Last week Governor Gavin Newsom announced his latest statewide judicial appointments - including three here in Sonoma County: Page Hein, Lynette Brown and Jane Gaskell.
Shelly Averill is presiding judge of the Sonoma County Superior Court, and spoke about the county's three newest judges.
Hein, Brown, and Gaskell were elevated to their judgeships thanks to California’s lengthy judicial nomination process as Judge Averill described it.
"They're first assigned to a committee who makes some phone calls to reach out and see that people within the legal community know who these people are, what their reputations are for integrity and judicial knowledge and judicial demeanor," Averill said. "They're forward on to the judicial nomination evaluation committee. Ultimately they're ranked that information goes to the judicial appointment secretary, and he then reviews those and reaches out to the governor about recommendations for appointment."
The alternative route to the bench in California is via election, but Averill noted appointments are not permanent.
"You have to run for election every six years, whether you were appointed or you became a judge initially by being elected," Averill said. "So it's not that once you've been appointed, you're there forever."
All three have long backgrounds in Sonoma County according to Averill.
Lynette Brown and Jane Gaskell are both graduates of Empire College of Law in Santa Rosa; and Brown and Page Hein were former public defenders, Averill said.
"Both Paige and Lynette are coming to us directly from the Sonoma County Public Defender's Office, and they've both been there for a substantial amount of time," Averill said. "Their most recent experience were both in felony trial assignments, so they have a lot of courtroom experience and a lot of trial experience."
While Gaskell comes from private practice, Averill said she’s no stranger to public defense.
"Jane Gaskell is coming to us from a private firm," Averill said. "She's been a partner with Andrian and Gallenson for an extended period of time. She also started as a law clerk in the public defender's office."
Averill said a judge’s background should not sway their decisions in one direction or another, but she does note that public defenders bring a unique perspective to the bench.
"In criminal law, you meet some good people at the worst part of their lives or going through something pretty traumatic," Averill said. "And so you have to learn to communicate with people in that role, which I think definitely transitions well to the bench. Being able to address the people that are coming before you."
Averill said there's been a shift in the background of judicial appointments; in the past they were often prosecutors, not defenders.
"That is much less true now," Averill said. "This governor has appointed a substantial number of people from defense work, from the civil bar, from the Public Defender's office; and I think a unique perspective to have, because those individuals who have worked in the Public Defender's office have often had contact with people from a very diverse background."
Averill said she looks forward to the new appointees and their wealth of experience taking the bench.
"You know, coming to court is a frightening experience for many people," Averill said. "And so having that type of a background and that type of experience, I think kind of lends itself to how you approach managing your calendar and, and addressing those who appear before you."