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SACRAMENTO � State Bar leaders took the unusual step Monday of revealing that a newly appointed San Bernardino County judge was rated “not qualified” by the Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission. Elia Pirozzi, a politically connected Republican from the Inland Empire, was named to the superior court in May despite receiving the poor evaluation from JNE, the Bar’s board of governors disclosed in a press release. Board members did not say why Pirozzi received low marks nor why JNE members had asked them to publicize the fact. State Bar spokeswoman Diane Curtis said board members are prevented by statute from disclosing any additional information. A message left for Pirozzi in his Chino courtroom on Monday was not returned. San Bernardino Court Executive Officer Tressa Sloan Kentner referred a call to the governor’s office. “Judge Pirozzi is qualified to serve in this position,” Aaron McLear, press secretary to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said in an e-mail. “He [had] been serving as a judge pro tem over the past year, a position that he was selected for by his peers in the legal community. He has practiced law for nearly two decades in the Inland Empire, which has given him strong community ties and a vast knowledge of the pressing issues in San Bernardino.” The Bar’s disclosure adds new fuel to the volatile debate over Schwarzenegger’s judicial appointments. Some lawmakers, complaining that the governor’s picks lack racial and gender diversity, have called on legislative leaders to reject the judiciary’s pleas for 100 new judgeships over the next two years. “We’re surprised because the governor’s office has consistently said that they wouldn’t appoint people who have ‘not qualified’ ratings,” said Fredericka McGee, general counsel to Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. “It’s concerning that it looks like good ol’ boys doing things for other good ol’ boys in the same group.” The disclosure of Pirozzi’s rating also follows controversial remarks made by then-Appointments Secretary Timothy Simon last year blaming JNE for giving poor marks to minority judicial candidates. Pirozzi served as chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Party between 2000 and 2003, and he ran unsuccessful campaigns for Congress in 1998 and for the state Assembly in 2004. The former president of a real estate company, Pirozzi raised more than $138,000 for his failed Assembly bid and made small donations to a Republican congressional candidate from the Inland Empire in 2004, according to state and federal campaign disclosure records. The Bar’s board of governors can reveal the names of judicial appointees who received a “not qualified” rating after they give the new judge “due notice.” But such revelations are rare. In 1996 word leaked to the media that JNE was about to label Supreme Court nominee Janice Rogers Brown unqualified. But Gov. Pete Wilson went ahead anyway, and the next year he furiously vetoed the State Bar’s funding authorization bill and publicly attacked the Bar’s alleged liberal leanings. Wilson appointed one other judge to the bench despite a “not qualified” rating. McGee said that, despite the Assembly speaker’s concerns about Pirozzi’s appointment, she hopes that he succeeds. “My understanding is that the ‘not qualified’ rating was based on Mr. Pirozzi’s lack of courtroom experience,” she said. “Our argument has always been that not just trial lawyers make good judicial officers. � If that’s the only reason for his not-qualified rating, then I think we need to look at the JNE Commission’s reasons for giving that rating because of a lack of trial experience.” The speaker’s office contends that the current judicial application’s focus on courtroom experience discourages lawyers from other practices � including many who may be ethnic minorities � from applying. While Schwarzenegger agreed last year to tweak the application to consider a broader range of experiences, his office has yet to release a new version.

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