By David M. Greenwald
Woodland, CA – Governor Newsom has been rightly lauded for appointing the most diverse bench in California history—both at the Supreme Court level and the trial court level. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at Yolo County.
When Governor Newsom in 2020 appointed Dan Wolk to Yolo Superior Court, that meant the Yolo County bench had nine of its 11 judges as white males, only two women, and only one person of color.
But Governor Newsom has a chance to fix this problem as he shifted Judge Peter Williams, a Sacramento resident, back to Sacramento in May and Judge David Reed last week announced his retirement.
In theory, that should give the governor a chance to appoint more women, more people of color and perhaps a public defender—something that hasn’t happened for a long time in Yolo County.
In March of 2019 after Governor Jerry Brown stepped down, a survey found that for the 13th straight year, California’s judicial bench has grown more diverse, according to new data released by the Judicial Council.
Governor Brown’s appointments, including the nearly 200 appointments made in his final year in office: women accounted for more than half of those appointees, and 41 percent identified as non-white.
Governor Newsom continued that trend as last year, his first, he appointed a majority of women and nonwhites to the bench.
That continued on Tuesday. Governor Newsom appointed 14 people to the bench—8 women and just two white males.
So why is Yolo County different than other counties?
A big part has to do with its location, roughly 15 minutes from the State Capitol on the other side of the Sacramento River.
It is a small county, but it is prominent—the home of UC Davis, a major law school and academic center. Davis also happens to be the home of a number of State Capitol employees and staffers.
The problem here is actually very clear, and it goes back to the last six governor appointments to the bench starting in 2008.
In 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed employment lawyer Samuel McAdam. In 2010, he appointed Dan Maguire, who was his deputy legal affairs secretary.
In 2012, Janene Beronio, one of the two women on the bench, was elected when retiring Judge Stephen Mock stepped down at the end of his term.
In 2015, Governor Brown appointed Sonia Cortés, the first Latina to be judge in Yolo County.
In 2018, he appointed Tom Dyer and Peter Williams, both of whom were attorneys in his administration.
Finally, in 2020, Governor Newsom appointed Dan Wolk, the former Mayor of Davis and the son of State Senator Lois Wolk.
While the 2018 appointees did not live in Yolo County, Sam McAdam, Dan Maguire, and Dan Wolk all live in Davis and Sonia Cortés lived in Woodland.
There is no real reason why Yolo County should be so lopsided, away from women in particular, and yet, the Board of Supervisors has for the last several years been all male.
The bench is even more embarrassing because, since 2010, the two governors have made it a point to appoint more women and people of color, and yet we have seen Yolo County actually move in the other direction.