Non-Prosecutor Named to Sacramento Superior Court by California Governor – Breaks the Norm for Court Judgeships, Studies Show 

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By The Vanguard Staff

SACRAMENTO, CA – In a somewhat out-of-the-ordinary decision, a non-prosecutor was named to be a judge when Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed a former federal public defender to the Sacramento County Superior Court bench this month.

According to the announcement by the court, the new judge is Jerome Price, Jr., of Sacramento County and since 2021 Price was a First Assistant Federal Defender in the Office of the Federal Defender for the Eastern District of California.

The vast majority of California Superior Court judges are former prosecutors, not defenders, according to studies—in Los Angeles County, for example, voters have only elected two public defenders in about 25 years to the superior court, according to LAist.

And, as of 2020, only seven percent of federal judges were former public defenders, according to a story produced by Arnold Ventures, adding just one percent of appellate justices spent their careers as public defenders or legal aid attorneys. 

Appointing criminal defense attorneys brings an important and underrepresented viewpoint to the bench, Arnold Ventures story stated.

​“Lawyers become public defenders generally because they believe that everyone deserves zealous representation and the presumption of innocence before trial,” said Ezekiel Edwards, a vice president of criminal justice at Arnold Ventures.

“Just as we have had former prosecutors on the bench for many years, we need perspective from lawyers who have defended people accused of crimes, heard their stories, talked to their families, and understand the deep harms of being arrested, accused, and imprisoned,” added Edwards.

The story noted, “As judges, former public defenders may be especially attuned to observing the constitutional rights of the defendants, including those that pertain to search and seizure, self-incrimination, right to counsel, impartial juries, burden of proof, and cruel and unusual punishment.”

“If you’ve got someone on the bench who is familiar with litigating those issues and making those legal arguments, that’s hugely important,” said Jason Daniel Williamson, executive director of the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law at the New York University School of Law. ​

Williamson added, “Someone who has a public defender background is going to be better equipped to interpret what occurred in a criminal case than someone who doesn’t have that background.”

Price, who fills the vacancy created when Justice Shama H. Mesiwala moved to the Court of Appeal, served as an Assistant Federal Defender in the Office of the Federal Defender for the Eastern District of California from 2011 to 2012.

Price was a Law Clerk for Justice Damon J. Keith at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.

“The court welcomes the addition of Mr. Price and the experience he will bring to the Sacramento County bench,” Presiding Court Judge Bunmi O. Awoniyi said in the superior court’s statement.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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