Monday, June 30, 2014

Gilbert v. Chiang (Cal. Ct. App. - June 27, 2014)

I think this opinion is exactly right.

Now, I know, you may be thinking:  "Oh, Professor Martin's just kissing up to the opinion's author, Justice Rylaarsdam."  Wrong.  Not at all.

I'm much more likely to be kissing up to the plaintiff.  Justice Gilbert.

Yep, that's right, a sitting California Court of Appeal justice is the plaintiff in an action pending in the California Court of Appeal.  What's more, the appeal concerns an issue that might well benefit many of the justices on that court:  whether a sitting justice who leaves the bench prior to the expiration of his or her term is allowed to accept public employment immediately thereafter.

Guess what?  The Court of Appeal holds that s/he can.  Reversing the trial court.

Why would anyone not allow a former justice to hold public office after leaving the bench, you might ask?  Good question.  The truth is:  There's utterly no reason to do so.  As Justice Rylaarsdam's opinion cogently explains, it'd be silly -- absurd, even -- to adopt such a principle.

But the trial court nonetheless thought that that's exactly what the voters did when they said (in the California Constitution) that a judge of a court of record is ineligible for public employment "during the term for which the judge is seated."  So, under the trial court's theory, if you leave the bench before your term of office has expired, that's fine, but during the remainder of your term, you cannot perform a public office.

The Court of Appeal's opinion smartly explains why that reading of the statute both doesn't make any sense and also isn't what it actually says.  Once you're no longer a judge, the statute no longer applies.  So you're free to take public office; e.g., to be the dean of a public law school.

It's a really great opinion.  Entirely right.  As well as just.

And I'd say that regardless of who wrote it.  Or who benefits from it.