Joshua Groban addressing the Commission on Judicial Appointments. (Photo: Jason Doiy/ALM)

Joshua Groban, Gov. Jerry Brown’s long-time legal adviser, took the oath of office Thursday as an associate justice of the California Supreme Court, filling a record-long vacancy and marking the final appointment the termed-out Brown will make to the high court.

Standing in front of his family, the six other justices of the Supreme Court and a Sacramento audience filled with some of the 644 jurists he helped vet as Brown’s point man on judicial appointments since 2011, Groban, 45, praised Brown for his openness to “contrary points of view and dissent” and for being “totally open to changing his mind.”

“It’s a process I’ve heard him describe as living in the inquiry,” Groban said. “And if I can internalize that process and learn from it, I suspect it will serve me well on the court.”

Brown, who delivered the oath to Groban, made no mention of the 16-month wait to replace retired Associate Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, a delay that forced the Supreme Court to rely on a changing cast of appellate justices sitting temporarily to hear cases. Instead, Brown hailed the state’s courts for sifting through “the utter complexity” of California’s many laws, particularly those addressing criminal sentencing “and making it as clear and simple and as just as humanly possible.”

Brown called Groban “eminently equipped” for his new job and reflected on their wide-ranging conversations about appointments, state laws, “nuclear issues and all matter of interesting topics.”

“Probably next to my wife I’ve talked to no other person as much as Josh Groban,” Brown said.

“I think you’ve talked to him more,” First Lady Anne Gust Brown shot back from the audience.

Noting Groban’s eight years of work on California judicial appointments, the governor’s office on Thursday released final demographic statistics for the judges named during Brown’s last two terms in office. Forty-four percent were women. Nearly 40 percent identified as non-white. Just under 6 percent of Brown’s judges identified as LGBT, 3.3 percent were veterans and just under 1 percent said they had a disability.

A statement from the governor’s office included a long list of “firsts”—including the first-ever gay justice appointed to the San Francisco appellate court, the first Hmong-American judge in the nation, and the first Muslim judge in California.

“I think his appointments have been fantastic,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said at her annual meeting with reporters last month. Cantil-Sakauye, noting the relative youth of many of Brown’s trial court appointees, said they brought changing perspectives to the bench on gun issues, climate change, homelessness and social justice.

“We’re just seeing a whole new generation,” she said.

The governor on Thursday pushed back at the notion that the high court, which now includes a majority of his appointees, should be considered “the Brown court.”

“First of all, the so-called Brown appointees do not view themselves [that way], nor should they. They’re individuals,” he said. “It’s not anybody’s court.”

Groban is scheduled to join the court for oral arguments at its Jan. 8 calendar in San Francisco.

“We live in a highly chaotic, ever changing, ever confusing world,” Groban said. “But I’m happy to report that I’m joining an institution whose fundamental purpose at its core is to provide stability and consistency amidst this chaotic place we live. And I look forward to doing that with a sense of reflection, respect, fidelity to the law and compassion.”

 


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