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California Chief Justice Expects More Death Penalty Lawsuits

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

In this March 23, 2015, file photo, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye delivers her State of the Judiciary address before a joint session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

The California Supreme Court has largely upheld the new, expedited death penalty procedure voters approved last November through Proposition 66, but the chief justice expects more challenges. 

In a roundtable discussion with reporters, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye suggested two areas she thinks the court will likely have to rule: She says Proposition 66 puts competing pressures on the state’s pool of attorneys who represent death row inmates in a certain type of appeal, called habeas corpus petitions. 

“This entity, the Habeas Corpus Resource Center—that was originally contemplated to provide the attorneys for these habeas corpus petitions—are now having their salaries reduced, even though the effort is that they take on more work,” Cantil-Sakauye says. “So I’m not sure how that’s going to work out.” 

The measure also requires attorneys who do not work on capital cases to accept them, when death penalty attorneys are booked up. 

Cantil-Sakauye did not take part in the Proposition 66 decision, since she oversees the state’s courts, which must implement it. 

On immigration-related arrests at courthouses:

“I am still seeing and hearing and reading about the enforcement of ICE arrests in courthouses,” she says. “It has not, I don’t think, diminished in any way except the principle is more universal and we are seeing its effect.” 

Cantil-Sakauye says she can not present detailed evidence of arrests, but judges have called her, while requesting anonymity, to report ICE activity near their courthouses.

Earlier this year, the chief justice took the unusual step of writing to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to object to arrests at courthouses. 

On widespread claims of sexual harassment nationwide and the #MeToo movement:

“It sort of hearkens back to all the things you learned in kindergarten,” she says. “Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t want said to yourself. And, behave.”

Cantil-Sakauye did not propose any specific changes to current policy for the state's judges, court administrators and staff, but suggested an advisory panel of judges could look into it.

“To me, what we’re seeing today is really a symptom of the overall treatment of women professionally and in the workforce,” the chief justice says. “I think it’s symptomatic of that treatment. I think it’s in accord with lack of equal pay and disrespect in the professions for women.”

A state appeals court judge retired in October after a judicial ethics committee investigated reports of sexual harassment.

The chief justice says she was kept out of it, because the Supreme Court reviews appeals of punishment meted out by the committee.

On the as-yet-unfilled seat left from Justice Kathryn Werdegar’s August retirement:

Cantil-Sakauye says each of the court’s seven justices is supposed to handle a portion of the caseload.

“We are still doing without one full chamber of production, and we have cases that are still [split] 3-3,”

In 2014, Brown took seven months to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. This will be the governor’s fourth pick on the current court, shifting it from its long-time majority of Republican appointees.

But the chief justice, who was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, says the court does not operate in ideological blocs.

“They are individuals and they are each principled in their own way about how they view the law and its evolution and, as you can see from our opinions, they are not in lockstep.”

The governor’s office notes there is no deadline to fill the vacancy.

“We are carefully considering this appointment, and our aim is to appoint the best candidate from a broad and diverse pool of applicants,” the office responded in an email.

Ben Bradford

Former State Government Reporter

As the State Government Reporter, Ben covered California politics, policy and the interaction between the two. He previously reported on local and state politics, business, energy, and environment for WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Read Full Bio 

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