Commentary: Governor Brown Fumbles Chance to Remake Yolo Court

In the last year, there have been three retirements on the Yolo County Superior Court – Judge Steven Basha retired nearly a year ago, Judge Kathleen White and Judge Janet Gaard retired in the last month.  Governor Brown this week filled two of those seats, leaving the third one for incoming Governor Gavin Newsom to fill.

Judge White was appointed by Governor Davis while Judge Basha and Judge Gaard were appointed by Governor Scharzenegger.   The appointments continue to move the needle in the direction of more Democratic Governor appointments, but while both men, Tom Dyer and Peter Williams, are Democrats, in most ways the appointments are disappointing and worse yet – a lost opportunity to remake the local court.

I stress that this is not a judgment personally or otherwise against the men appointed by the governor.  Nor is this a judgment on the overall legacy of his appointments.  However, looking at this from the standpoint of Yolo County and the standpoint of transformational change in the criminal justice system – these appointments leave a lot to be desired.

We hold out hope – albeit faint hope at this point – that the governor can right some wrongs in his last days.  We would love to see him commute the sentence of Ajay Dev and see him effectively end the death penalty in California.  But those hopes are fading as are hopes for deep changes.

Our view of the Yolo County Superior Court bench has been that it is largely white, filled mainly with Republican Governor Appointees, however, up until the recent retirements it was fairly gender balanced.

The two appointments leaves the count as follows: 10 sitting judges, 2 of them women.  Two.  In 2018.  We have Judge Janene Beronio who was elected to the bench in 2014 and Sonia Cortes who was appointed by Governor Brown in 2016.

This is 2018 and Governor Brown inexplicably fills judgeships held by women and appoints men in their place.

Worse yet, there is but one person of color on the bench – Sonio Cortes.

So the count is: 8 white men, one white woman, and one Latina.

There are those who will scoff at gender and race and ethnicity.  But Yolo County is already one of the most racially disproportionate counties in the state.  The overall breakdown by race is that Yolo County is 48 percent non-Hispanic white, 31 percent Latino and 13.8 percent Asian.

The court system however, look very different.  The majority of people in the system – vast majority – are people of color.  And while the system in California is racially disproportionate, the system in Yolo is far worse.

Whites in Yolo County are imprisoned at a rate of 314 per 100,000 people.  That is actually about 19 percent higher than the statewide average of 264 per 100,000.  Meanwhile Latinos are imprisoned at more than twice the rate 676 per 100,000.  That’s 21 percent higher than the statewide average.  Finally blacks are imprisoned at the remarkable rate of 3101 per 100,000 or 35% above the statewide average.

The majority of the people in the criminal justice system in Yolo County are people of color, prosecuted by largely white prosecutors and presided over by almost exclusively white judges.  Governor Brown had a chance to change this system – but he failed to do so.

Interestingly enough, Governor Brown picked two men, neither of whom live in Yolo County,  At least Tom Dyer is a graduate of UC Davis School of Law, but Peter Williams appears to have no ties whatsoever to Yolo County as he graduated from UC Santa Barbara for undergraduate and the University of San Diego School of Law.

Moreover, both men are former prosecutors with Mr. Dyer having been a Deputy DA in Sutter County while Mr. Williams was a prosecutor for both the state Office of Attorney General and the US Attorney’s Office in both the Eastern and Central Districts of California.

Both men were appointees previously of Governor Brown.  Mr. Dyer served chief deputy legislative affairs secretary in the Office of Governor Brown while Mr. Williams has served as deputy secretary, general counsel at the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency since 2016.

It remains to be seen how their tenure will go as judges in Yolo County.  But in terms of what the Yolo County bench needed – more diverse backgrounds, these appointments come up disappointingly short.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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55 thoughts on “Commentary: Governor Brown Fumbles Chance to Remake Yolo Court”

  1. PhilColeman

    The Governor has fumbled so now we get to pick up the ball and run with it. We’ll show Jerry how to properly appoint judges that best serve the judicial requirements of Yolo County. This will be fun, and oh so easy.

    We’ll disregard or give minimal attention to any measurement or comparison of past legal accomplishments or academic excellence or job history of particular distinction. None of this is particularly important or relevant to our objectives.

    The first requirement, the judge has to be a Democrat, the one thing that the Democrat Party Governor got right. Yeah, maybe the foundations of our entire political system are based on a two major party system but Republicans in Yolo have no importance to us. If Yolo Republicans have a legal beef they can take it before a judge that’s a Democrat.

    Those Yolo Republicans had their day, that’s what they did to us, and now it’s our turn to exclude them. When they do it it’s discriminatory–when we exclude them it’s social reform and progress.

    We’ll make sure that women get preference over any male candidate. Men are inherently unacceptable for the image we seek–the cosmetic eye-test of at least half female when they gather for a group photo. If we have more women than men, that’s even better, makes us look more progressive. Image is everything to our way of thinking.

    What’s next, oh, they have to live in Yolo County. Nobody outside our narrow-minded range of vision should be examined for judicial excellence. Only folks among us are truly qualified to serve as a judge because we say so.

    Now skin color and ethnicity. Exclude all practicing atttorneys that are Caucasian for candidacy for Yolo judge. So easy, just got rid of a lot of white male attorneys. Summary judgment on those dudes. History has abundantly shown that white males have never been sympathetic to the plight of the downtrodden. Social advances in the past were done by poor, non-white, Democrat, female, local folks.

    Finally, nobody can be a judge in Yolo with a professional background as a criminal prosecutor. Prosecuting attorneys as a profession routinely violate the rights of defendants and are unworthy of consideration for a judgeship. It’s not important who they represent, the far numerically superior victims of crime. The only victims we acknowledge are those who sit at the defense table in a courtroom. Civil rights attorneys, ACLU attorneys, public defenders–those with a bias towards defendants in any legal proceedings are the ones we want (as long as they are of color, female, and Democrats.) That’s our definition and application of judicial balance and equity.

    We’ll close one eye and then the other should critics say this form of job selection in violation of a host of state and federal laws. It’s a minor point that in no other circumstance can job candidates be evaluated on residency, color, gender, political party, skin color, or the fact that they worked previously in a particular occupation.

    Touchdown!

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Yolo County Judges:

      Tim Fall – appointed by Wilson
      David Rosenberg – appointed by Davis
      David Reed – appointed by Schwarzenneger
      Paul Richardson – appointed by Schwarzenneger
      Sam McAdam – appointed by Schwarzenneger
      Dan McGuire – appointed by Schwarzenneger
      Jane Baronio – elected in 2014 (registered Republican)
      Sonia Cortes – appointed by Brown
      Tom Dyer – appointed by Brown
      Peter Williams – appointed by Brown

    2. Eric Gelber

      We’ll disregard or give minimal attention to any measurement or comparison of past legal accomplishments or academic excellence or job history of particular distinction. None of this is particularly important or relevant to our objectives.

      The implication being that there are not sufficient highly qualified candidates who are non-white, non-male, non-prosecutors or non-corporate lawyers to achieve balance on the courts.

      1. David Greenwald

        To Eric’s point, I know a public defender here in Yolo, a woman, who put her name in and would have been highly qualified.  It looks like the two selections were people that Gov. Brown had appointed previously for other positions.

        1. Eric Gelber

          It’s certainly not unusual for Governors to appoint people they have previously vetted, particularly those who have worked in the Governor’s Office in Legal or related positions (e.g., David Rosenberg (Davis), Dan Maguire (Schwarzenneger)).

  2. Ron

    From article:  “There are those who will scoff at gender and race and ethnicity.”

    “So the count is: 8 white men, one white woman, and one Latina.”

    There are those who would promote quotas. By the way, does a Latina count “twice” (female, and person of color)?

    Also, what about sexual orientation, disability, etc.?

    1. Craig Ross

      A quota is an exact number set aside for a specific race or gender.  That’s not happening here.  Diversity matters.  It especially matters in the criminal justice system.

      1. Ron

        Regarding diversity, how does one ensure that unless the pool of qualified candidates matches whatever “goal” is established?  (A goal implies a numerical objective/quota, as presented in the article.) If the goal/quota has not been met, is a preference given to someone based upon their minority status?

        Your statement that it is “especially important” in the criminal justice system suggests that non-minority judges are inherently biased.

        1. Ron

          “Strive for” implies preference based upon minority status.  In other words, purposeful discrimination. And apparently, articles expressing disappointment when that doesn’t occur.

        2. Ron

          Wow. If that isn’t a perfect example of bias and prejudice, I don’t know what is.
          If I made that comment when I was younger, would that be better? Or, if I was not Caucasian? I’ve heard comments like this from non-Caucasians.

        3. Craig Ross

          I feel like I’m banging my head into the wall if you believe that striving for a more diverse bench in this county is tantamount to discrimination.  You’re a privileged white man, you don’t get it, you’re probably never going to get it.  If you want know why people of color don’t trust white people, look in the mirror.

        4. Ron

          Again, I don’t know how you “strive for” something unless you (ultimately) engage in discrimination. Maybe that is the only way to “fix” the perceived problem. (I believe it’s also led to legal challenges, though. For example, in college admission processes.)

          Your other comments are just plain-old bias on display. The same type of thinking that led to societal discrimination in the first place.

        5. Craig Ross

          That’s the problem and why we end up with a white male bench in a county like Yolo.  People like you don’t know how it is to recruit and find talented people of color without seeming to discriminate.  I’m not blaming you personally, you probably honestly don’t know better, but the problem is that there are lot of people out there just like you, they aren’t willing to look at a problem like this and come up with ways to get more minority applicants into consideration.  It’s not that hard.

        6. Ron

          So, you’re suggesting a broader pool, for the purpose of engaging in discrimination?  🙂

          Or, to make up for past discrimination.

          I’m not necessarily opposed to that. But, let’s call it what it is.

        7. Ron

          Craig:  I’m assuming that you’re Caucasian (and you’ve already stated that you’re young), so it must be my age that’s “preventing” me from understanding.

          Therefore, I hope they don’t appoint any older judges. 🙂

        8. Ron

          Regarding expansion of the pool of applicants, I’m wondering why some resisted that in reference to WDAAC.

          Of course, with WDAAC, expansion of the pool would have allowed interested applicants to come forward on their own (regardless of minority status), vs. purposefully seeking them out in the case of judges.

          I’m guessing this discrepancy has more to do with “selective examination” of discrimination. (In other words, development proposals have carte blanche, in the eyes of some.)

        9. Craig Ross

          I’m not Caucasian.

          On WDAAC, I’ve told you, my philosophy is that you don’t fix housing shortfalls by stopping housing projects.  Besides, under the framework of DBB, I would qualify for housing there.

        10. Ron

          O.K. Not sure why I assumed that you are Caucasian. (Actually, I”m not sure if I ever identified my skin color, either.)

          So, your position is that housing challenges are so severe that you’re willing to support a proposal which is discriminatory.  But, not when it comes to appointment of judges.

          What is DBB?

        11. Ron

          As a side note, the legal challenge is not intended to stop WDAAC.  It’s intended to change the “Davis buyer’s” program – or whatever it’s called. So, your opposition to addressing this is puzzling.

        12. Craig Ross

          Ron – the DBB is the Davis Based Buyer’s Program.  Basically the legal challenge is a bunch of affluent white people who do not want more housing trying to find an excuse to convince voters to vote no.  It was mainly a campaign tactic.  It will probably die when it gets to court next month.

  3. Ron

    From article:  “This is 2018 and Governor Brown inexplicably fills judgeships held by women and appoints men in their place.”

    How disgraceful!

    Maybe they could undergo gender reassignment (and thereby fulfill another category, as well).

    Folks should really look at what this article is suggesting, and the implications of it.

    1. Ron

      “The majority of the people in the criminal justice system in Yolo County are people of color, prosecuted by largely white prosecutors and presided over by almost exclusively white judges.”

      No mention of the gender of the majority of defendants?   Using the Vanguard’s logic, should the “majority” of judges then also be men, assuming that males are the majority of the defendants?

      Perhaps ensure that the prosecutors and judges assigned to individual cases “match” the individual defendants (e.g., in regard to gender, skin color, disability status, etc.?)

       

      1. PhilColeman

        Interesting point, I missed it. Criminal behavior is an overwhelmingly male trait. Applying gender equity to criminal judges and the people who appear before them, four of the next five open judge vacancies should be reserved for male attorneys.

        In all instance where arbitrary standards of preference are applied to any population in the name of social justice a consequency of inequity happens somewhere else.

      2. Eric Gelber

        I don’t believe the goal is for the legal system or the judiciary to reflect the demographic characteristics of criminal defendants. And, if that’s what is being suggested in the article, I disagree. Despite Ron’s inability to comprehend the distinction between goals and quotas, the system as a whole should strive to represent the diversity of the state and of the community, which, at this point, it clearly does not.

         

        1. Ron

          Eric:  I respect your opinions, as they’re put forth in a thoughtful manner.  In addition, your views don’t have the same internal inconsistencies as some others have previously demonstrated.

          But, looking at the quote from David’s article (in my 1:06 p.m. comment), and in the remainder of the article, how can this be interpreted as anything but “white males need not apply”?

          Regarding goals vs. quotas, how are goals reached unless some form of discrimination is ultimately applied? (Assuming, for example, that the current system does not reflect goals.)

        2. Eric Gelber

          Ron – Achieving goals does not require discrimination. As an example, one could do more at the high school and undergraduate level by encouraging minorities and women to pursue careers in law. Targeted outreach is another means of achieving goals.

          You seemed to have been getting it earlier when you referred to the WDAAC Davis Based Buyers Program. That’s an example of a discriminatory quota rather than a goal: It would set a hard 10% limit on the number of homes that could be sold to buyers without a Davis connection. (Outsiders need not apply.) Alternative ways of achieving a similar outcome–i.e., striving for a goal of maximizing purchases by local buyers without setting a discriminatory quota–would be through focused marketing and advertising–e.g., marketing in the local region rather than the Bay Area and Southern California (as was done with the Cannery, for example.), or advertising in UCD alumni publications.

        3. Ron

          The difference I see with WDAAC is that there was a purposeful (and unique) intent to limit the pool to those with a connection to Davis.

          I don’t know what pool is used to select judges.  But, if the pool is different than the community or state at large, then that would (conceivably) be the same problem as WDAAC. Yes, I can see that this could be a concern.

          Note that what you’re suggesting is different than David has implied as a goal, in which the prosecutors and judges would reflect the makeup of defendants.

        4. David Greenwald

          “Note that what you’re suggesting is different than David has implied as a goal, in which the prosecutors and judges would reflect the makeup of defendants.”

          Point out that nowhere did I ever specify a goal of having judge reflect the makeup of defendants, I simply used the make up of defendants and the overall population to demonstrate the disparity.

      3. Ron

        David:  It seems to be implied throughout your article.  For example:

        “The majority of the people in the criminal justice system in Yolo County are people of color, prosecuted by largely white prosecutors and presided over by almost exclusively white judges.”
        “The court system however, look very different.  The majority of people in the system – vast majority – are people of color.  And while the system in California is racially disproportionate, the system in Yolo is far worse.”
         
        “Whites in Yolo County are imprisoned at a rate of 314 per 100,000 people.  That is actually about 19 percent higher than the statewide average of 264 per 100,000.  Meanwhile Latinos are imprisoned at more than twice the rate 676 per 100,000.  That’s 21 percent higher than the statewide average.  Finally blacks are imprisoned at the remarkable rate of 3101 per 100,000 or 35% above the statewide average.”
         
        “The majority of the people in the criminal justice system in Yolo County are people of color, prosecuted by largely white prosecutors and presided over by almost exclusively white judges.  Governor Brown had a chance to change this system – but he failed to do so.”

        Aren’t people of color, and males of all colors “over-represented” in the court system, compared to the makeup of (almost) any community or the state as a whole? (For that matter, probably an “over-representation” of younger people, as well.)

        If you’re suggesting that the pool of applicants should represent the community and/or state (as Eric suggested), wouldn’t a comparison to the community or state be more in order than the statistics you cited above?

        1. David Greenwald

          As I just explained, nowhere do I state that the goal is to reflect the make up of the defendants, I simply use those are metrics to illustrate the disparity.

        2. Ron

          The disparity you’re highlighting apparently does not correspond with the goal. Looking at the other comments on here, it seems that I’m not the only one who was confused by your comparison.

        3. Ron

          Finally blacks are imprisoned at the remarkable rate of 3101 per 100,000 or 35% above the statewide average.”

          Just wondering – are there 100,000 African Americans in Yolo county?  Or, was this number extrapolated from a small sample size?

          In other words, if there were 10 of a given population, and 5 were in the court system, would your statistics conclude that 50,000 per 100,000 are imprisoned?

        4. Ron

          Thanks, Don.

          Seems like the following are the statistics that should be used, if one is ultimately trying to match the population of Yolo county, for example:

          https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/yolocountycalifornia

          Yeap, those who identify as African-American (alone) are just under 3%. (Pretty much what I expected.)

          According to the article, there are 10 judges. Therefore, one would represent 10%.

          I’m sure it would equally easy to find statistics for the state as a whole.

        5. Ron

          Let’s see if I calculate the rest of this correctly, as well:

          There are approximately 6,061 African-Americans in Yolo County.  (2.9% X 209,000).

          According to the article, just over 3% of the African-American population are imprisoned  (3,101/100,000). (I’m not sure if this means currently-imprisoned, or has been imprisoned over some period of time.)

          Therefore, there are approximately 188 African-Americans (imprisoned?) in Yolo County (3% X 6,061).

          (Figures have been rounded-off.)

           

        6. David Greenwald Post author

          “I’m sure it would equally easy to find statistics for the state as a whole.”

          Given that the same people appoint judges across the state, I’m not sure of your point by that comment.

  4. David Greenwald

    I was looking at the data, since 1992, women graduate at equal rates from law school as men (actually 51-49 tilt to women), but lag far behind in judicial appointments…

    Interesting report here on the need for women judges to help break down women’s access to justice (link)

    Citing a growing body of empirical research, the report shows that women judges play an important role in breaking down many of the barriers that women face in accessing justice. Being more aware than men of gender-specific justice needs across a spectrum of issues, including sexual and gender-based violence, women judges have spearheaded landmark legal decisions in a number of countries which have not only produced tangibly better outcomes for women but also shifted public policy.
    Despite the positive contribution that women make to the justice sector, IDLO’s research shows that the pathways for judicial promotion are blocked by many legal, political and social obstacles, including gender biases.

    1. Ken A

      It was just a couple years ago that women passed men in law school:

      In December 2016 the NYT wrote: “For the first time, women make up a majority of law students, holding just over 50 percent of the seats at accredited law schools in the United States.”

      https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/16/business/dealbook/women-majority-of-us-law-students-first-time.html

      In the 1960’s and 1970’s not a lot of women went to law school and many that did went because they were not able to get a “MRS degree” as an undergrad (a friend’s Mom met his Dad at Stanford Law school and got married the summer they graduated and never even took the bar exam).

      In 1980 only about 1/3 of law school grads were female by 1990 the number of female grads was just above 40%.

      Most judges that graduated from law school in 1980 would be 63 and that is around the median age for a CA judge so it is not a surprise that there are more male judges in CA.

      1. Howard P

        Ahhhh, yeah the MRS degree.   Yes, memories… in the early-mid 70’s, women in the “Child Development”,  ‘pre teaching’ other “social degree” programs were considered to be ‘looking for their MRS degrees’…

        Guys knew this… and either avoided, and/or made no promises prior to, during, or after sex…

        Gave a bad rap two ways… yeah, some gals (often very cute, but had no HS sweethearts) did that… most others didn’t…  remember some guys, looking for “an easy lay” sought the MRS gals out, but set limits… including ‘hard’ contraception… vast majority of the guys @ UCD didn’t pursue MRS candidates.

         

  5. Ken A

    I know that David and others often say we need more “judges of color” because we have more “people of color in court”.  I’m wondering if David can explain why we don’t need more male judges since we have so many more males in court?

  6. David Greenwald Post author

    To be clear the percentage of the population that is Hispanic (non-white), Asian and Black is 52 percent.  The percentage on the bench is 1 out of 10.

    The percentage of the population that is women is usually 52 or 53 percent, the percent on the bench is 20%.

    To me, those stats raise alarm bells about the system.  The point of this article was to point out that Jerry Brown had a chance to push things in a more equitable direction on this front and several others, and failed to do so.

    1. Eric Gelber

      … Jerry Brown had a chance to push things in a more equitable direction on this front and several others, and failed to do so.

      Is this assessment based on his overall record statewide during his term or on two recent appointments in Yolo County?

    2. Howard P

      To be clear the percentage of the population that is Hispanic (non-white), Asian and Black is 52 percent.

      ‘To be clear’, is that statement Yolo county, or state-wide?  (slightly rephrasing Eric’s insightful question…)

      It appears to be clear, based on the followup,

      To me, those stats raise alarm bells about the system.  The point of this article was to point out that Jerry Brown had a chance to push things in a more equitable direction on this front and several others

      that “equal outcomes” are more important that “equal opportunity”, in your view… ‘gotta make that “quota”, else, something is ‘wrong’… interesting ‘litmus test’… I do not share that view, although I am a fervent supporter of equal opportunity and a ‘color-blind’ world… but, if you prefer to base your judgement as to “equal outcomes”, irrespective of qualifications of individuals, that’s your right…

      Let’s expand on that… should we ensure that Democrats/Republicans/independents, others are equally represented on the bench?  Women?  Sexual identity?  Height?  BMI? etc.?  And absent that ‘equality’, there is a major issue, yes?  Think someone said something to the effect about judging a person based on their character, rather than the color of their skin (or gender, or hair color, or eye color, political affiliations, place of birth, etc., etc., etc.).  Guess he was naive… one can only dream, I guess…

      Look at NBA (or NFL, or PGA)… there, Asians, ‘native Americans’, Hispanic (non-white) are grossly  under-represented.  Another sign of a ‘social ill’ that should be remedied… until that is resolved, all should refrain from viewing any sporting event.

      Ok.  A judgement call…

  7. Jeff M

    Diversity matters.  It especially matters in the criminal justice system.

    All that matters is to be an experienced, knowledgable and objective jurist… highly qualified to be accurate within the law in judging of cases that come before them.

    Why are Davis liberals so hung up on group identity while being so white male hating?  Most of you are white males.  I am guessing that you must recognize your own inability to be unbiased and objective and thus project that on other white males.

    If you really cared about material diversity in society in this state and county with respect to judicial work you should welcome more conservative minds to the bench no matter what group identity.

    1. Ken A

      I think that Jeff knows that when anyone with left of center political views says they want more “diversity” what they really mean is “less white males”.  Nothing makes a white male more accepted by the political left as when they make weekly blog and facebook posts about how bad white males are, how we need more “diversity” and break in to tears when they explain how unfair it is that they have so much “white privilege”…

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