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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is catching some heat from Asian-American lawyers over two recent judicial appointments to San Francisco Superior Court. The Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area, Public Defender Jeff Adachi and Chinese for Affirmative Action, a local community advocacy group, plan a press conference today to criticize the governor. They’re disappointed in his choices to fill the seats on the San Francisco bench vacated by the death and retirement of two longtime judges, both Asian-Americans. “Not having an Asian-American included in this round of appointments is a slap in the face to the Asian-American community, which in large part supported this [governor's] administration,” Adachi said. The handful of critics organizing the press conference emphasized, though, that they are not questioning the qualifications of the people Schwarzenegger ended up choosing. The Republican governor’s Feb. 23 picks for San Francisco were Curtis Karnow and Marla Miller, both Democrats with big-firm civil litigation backgrounds and prosecutorial experience. “We don’t mean to be critical of either of the two candidates he has appointed,” said Victor Hwang, president of the Asian American Bar Association. “Our general call is there’s a lack of diversity.” He counts four Asian-Americans out of 50 judges on the San Francisco Superior Court bench. That’s 8 percent, he notes, while about one-third of the city’s population is Asian. Hwang, who also co-chairs the Minority Bar Coalition, has met with the governor’s judicial appointments adviser and his legal affairs secretary, urging them to appoint an Asian-American in San Francisco and pointing out candidates who had applied. Though they won’t name names, Hwang and Adachi each say they knew of at least a dozen qualified Asian-Americans. Hwang said the governor’s decision-makers told him they won’t consider race or ethnicity. But they added, Hwang said, that they didn’t see a reason the bench “should not naturally reflect the community.” Six percent of the state’s lawyers are Asian-American, according to the governor’s office. Hwang and other critics said it’s important to measure the bench against the general population, too, in order to maintain an accessible and culturally sensitive bench, and the perception of fairness. “People always talk about making sure that there is a jury of peers,” said David Chiu, a board member of Chinese for Affirmative Action and general counsel of Grassroots Enterprise, an online public affairs company in San Francisco. Even if judges are doing everything right, he added, “everyone who’s affected by our court system may not perceive a sense of justice if the bench is not as representative of the population.” The two people who formerly filled the San Francisco seats, retired Judge Lillian Sing and the late Judge Lenard Louie, were also active in the Asian-American community, educating people about justice issues, Hwang said. Schwarzenegger’s office declined to elaborate on its decision-making Wednesday, except to say through spokeswoman Julie Soderlund that “the governor seeks out and appoints the most qualified individuals to every position, whether it be to the bench or appointees to state government.” The governor has picked 23 judges so far, including six women, one African-American and one Asian-American. The Asian American Bar Association is far from the only minority lawyers group concerned about getting more representation on the bench. The Charles Houston Bar Association, an organization of African-American lawyers, has met with past governors’ administrations on the issue, said San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Monica Wiley, the group’s judicial chair. The criminal courts are of particular concern to her group, she added. “It’s constantly a battle to have the criminal bench look more like the population that it’s interacting with.” And the Minority Bar Coalition, an alliance of Bay Area lawyers groups, hosted a luncheon where member groups could send their favorite judge hopefuls to meet Schwarzenegger’s judicial appointments adviser, John Davies. Speaking to them about the appointments process, Davies mentioned the governor weighs whether voters will retain a judge down the road. “Other than that, this is as close to a pure merit system as you can have,” he said at the time. The president of the Bar Association of San Francisco, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein partner James Finberg, has also been invited to the press conference. Finberg said Wednesday that BASF’s executive committee voted unanimously to support the Asian American Bar Association’s position, “that the governor should take into account diversity when making his judicial picks.” Finberg stressed that BASF wasn’t critical of Schwarzenegger’s picks. Noting that Miller is a retiring BASF board member, he said, “I know her to be extraordinarily capable.”

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