Justice Therese M. Stewart, California Court of Appeal for the First District
Justice Therese M. Stewart, California Court of Appeal for the First District (Eric Risberg / AP Photo)

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown made history Saturday when he nominated San Francisco Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart to the First District Court of Appeal’s Division Two. If confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, Stewart, the well-known Prop 8 litigator, would become the first openly lesbian woman named to a state appellate court.

Brown announced the judicial appointment, along with five others, in a rare weekend press release. A spokesman said the governor was merely trying to wrap up the nominations before he left on an out-of-state trip. But the announcement coincided with San Francisco’s Pride festivities.

Stewart, given no real advance notice of her appointment, marked the occasion on the East Coast, where she was helping her daughter move.

“It’s bittersweet,” Stewart said Monday from inside a moving truck cab. “I have had so much fun with the city, and it’s been so interesting. It’s going to be really hard to leave.”

Stewart spent 20 years at Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin before joining the city attorney’s office in 2002. She represented the city in a series of cases seeking to establish the right of same-sex couples to marry, and she was City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s point person in the legal fight against Prop 8.

“Nine of the 12 years [in the city attorney's office], that was a part of what I was doing,” Stewart said. “It was an opportunity that I was not expecting when I came to the office. It came out of the magic of that somewhat wacky mayor [Gavin Newsom], whom I adore. And, of course, Dennis ran with it. … The city is amazing in a lot of ways.”

Brown on Saturday also elevated First District Justice James Humes, his former executive secretary, to presiding justice of the appellate court’s Division One. He was the first openly gay justice to serve on a California appellate court when Brown appointed him in 2012. Although the governor is under pressure to appoint a Latino and an African-American to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court in the coming months, Humes and Stewart’s appointments make them clear candidates for future openings on the high court.

Brown nominated four jurists to the Second District Court of Appeal as well. Justice Frances Rothschild of the Second District will serve as presiding justice of the appellate court’s Division One, if confirmed. Brian Hoffstadt, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, was named associate justice in Division Two. Former Los Angeles Presiding Judge Lee Smalley Edmon would succeed retiring Justice Joan Dempsey Klein as presiding justice of Division Three. And Judge Audrey Collins of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California would move to the appellate court’s Division Four.

Collins, a Clinton appointee who was confirmed to the federal bench in 1994, said she reevaluated her career after completing a three-year stint as chief judge in 2012. Retirement and private judging did not seem enticing, she said.

“I think it will be a wonderful new challenge, and after a long career on the federal bench, I was ready and energetic enough,” Collins said Monday. She won’t have to move far, if confirmed. The Second District is located less than four blocks from her current office. And having spent 16 years as a prosecutor in the Los Angeles district attorney’s office, many of the faces in the state courts should be familiar, she said.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to return to home base,” she said.

All six of Brown’s nominees are Democrats. Each one must be confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, which includes Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala Harris, and the most senior justice in the affected courts—in the Second District, that’s Dempsey Klein; in the First District, that’s J. Anthony Kline.

Contact the reporter at cmiller@alm.com.