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Steven Perren had a curious response when Gov. Gray Davis’ people called him out of the blue four years ago and told him he was on a short list for a seat on the California Supreme Court. “Frankly, my reaction was, ‘Come on.’ I wasn’t buying it,” the Ventura-based justice said. Having been on the Second District Court of Appeal for less than two years at the time and having never been mentioned as a candidate, he felt there had to be others more deserving. “I asked for, and received, time to think about it,” he said. The position — vacated by the unexpected death of legendary Justice Stanley Mosk on June 19, 2001 — eventually went to Carlos Moreno, then a federal judge in Los Angeles and one of three other men on Davis’ list. But for a few weeks, Perren and his co-nominees found themselves in the media spotlight and enduring a grueling application and interview process — something Perren recalls being a “muddled mess.” So he can sympathize with a handful of judges and attorneys from Sacramento to San Diego whose names have surfaced in recent weeks as possible successors to Justice Janice Rogers Brown, who left the high court on June 30 for the D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Unlike Perren, their names haven’t yet been placed on an official list. But they’re being mentioned time and again in news accounts, with political pundits and court scholars making their best guesses about who could become Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first Supreme Court appointee. Some of those mentioned — such as Justice Arthur Scotland of Sacramento’s Third District, San Francisco-based U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins and Sacramento-based U.S. District Judge Morrison England — didn’t want to talk about their sudden fame. And others, such as Oakland-based U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong, didn’t return calls. Even those who agreed to talk said that while it’s flattering to be bandied about for one of the state’s seven highest judicial posts, it’s also disconcerting because it’s all coming from a bunch of talking heads.
The Usual Suspects
Armstrong Cooper Corrigan
England Haller Jenkins
Lui Raye Scotland

“It’s pure speculation,” said former Second District Justice Elwood Lui, a Jones Day partner who wouldn’t say whether he would be interested if tapped. “I had a great 12 years on the bench and I met a lot of people and the work was interesting, and I’ve turned the page with another career,” he said. “Whether I turn the page or not again is not a question I’m prepared to answer right now. “I would say this,” he added, “anyone who’s mentioned as a candidate should be pleased to even be considered.” For the most part, the individuals named thus far aren’t sure why they’re being talked up or if it’s even causing a buzz. “As far as I know, you and I are the only two people talking about this,” Justice Carol Corrigan, of San Francisco’s First District, half joked. “Nobody’s called me.” Justice Judith Haller, of San Diego’s Fourth District, said she wasn’t aware that she had been touted as a candidate until colleagues told her during a conference call. She called it a “complete surprise,” but said — other than taking a few congratulatory telephone calls — the news hasn’t changed her daily routine. “You take your cases, you do your best, you try to make well-informed and reasoned decisions and you move on,” she said. “Your job is to make decisions and you can’t let something like this influence what you are going to do.” If the governor came calling, however, Haller said she’d jump at the chance. Corrigan, of the First District, also admitted it would be hard to say no. Candace Cooper, another Second District justice whose name has appeared as a Brown successor, goes a step further. She’s so intrigued by the rumors that she’s already checking into filing an official application for the job. “I will send it in,” she said. “I will put my name in.” What the high court does is somewhat similar to an appellate justice’s job, she said, so she doesn’t find the prospect of the work daunting. Cooper said she wasn’t “exactly surprised” that her name came up, in that it’s not unexpected that a black woman, such as herself, would be mentioned as a replacement for Brown, the first black female on the state’s high court. The only other blacks on the state’s appellate bench are the Second District’s Vaino Spencer and the Third District’s Vance Raye. Raye’s name has also been thrown out by pundits, and he admits to having a “certain amount of denial” about the chatter. As with Perren four years ago, he’s humbled to even be named. “You concentrate on the possibility and, at least for me, you wonder whether you are worthy of being considered because it is such an important position,” Raye said. “Since the California Supreme Court has historically been somewhat of a pace-setter in numerous areas, it is one of the most important judicial positions in the nation, and so you wonder whether your name should have been bandied about, whether you’re truly up to the task.” If any of the individuals named by the press actually get called by Schwarzenegger’s staff, the clamor for their attention will ramp up considerably. Dennis Cornell, a justice on Fresno’s Fifth District who was one of Davis’ four nominees for Mosk’s position in 2001, said that while he, Perren, Moreno and Second District Justice Dennis Perluss granted no press interviews after being named finalists, they still met with interested groups: law enforcement associations, unions, tort reformers, “the entire panoply of legal groups.” All four were also asked to submit applications, undergo interviews and background checks and provide copies of all their written opinions. Cornell said he provided two large boxes full of rulings. “That was just one of the many tasks that had to be undertaken,” he said. “It was flattering and somewhat hectic, but it all came with the territory.” Both Perren and Cornell said the process was quickened four years ago in hopes of getting a new justice on the court in time for the fall arguments — a hope again expressed by Chief Justice Ronald George in trying to replace Brown. Cornell said he got the call from Davis’ office at 9 p.m. on a Friday and had his application to the Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission by the following Tuesday. But even at a rushed pace, Moreno missed two oral argument sessions before being confirmed to the court. Asked if he had any advice for the judges and attorneys now involved in the name game, Perren said, “Be sure it’s what you really want. There’s the lure of the moment, but a little reflection might be called for. It is an august job that has high demands.” Cornell added that what appears in the press should be taken as a grain of salt. After all, neither he nor Perren had been named by pundits before getting the governor’s call. “Unless they are in direct contact with the governor’s office,” Cornell said, “nobody knows.” Reporter Jill Duman contributed to this report.

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