Senior Adviser to Gov. Brown Confirmed to California Supreme Court

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Joshua Groban is seen in an undated photo provided by the Office of the Governor of California.
Joshua Groban is seen in an undated photo provided by the Office of the Governor of California.

A senior adviser to California Gov. Jerry Brown who was instrumental in hundreds of judicial appointments was poised Friday to become the newest member of the state Supreme Court after a judicial commission confirmed his nomination by the governor.

Joshua Groban received the approval of all three members of the Commission on Judicial Appointments, including California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and state attorney general Xavier Becerra. Brown still has to swear Groban in before he can join the seven-member court. That won’t happen until January before Brown, a Democrat, leaves office.

Groban, 45, thanked Brown after he was confirmed and said he would “try every day to fulfill the promise he saw in me.” Groban earlier praised his wife, television writer Deborah Schoeneman, saying she had made many sacrifices to allow him to serve in the Brown administration. Schoeneman was in the audience with their three-year-old and six-year-old children.

Groban is Brown’s fourth nomination to the high court over the past two terms, and like the governor’s three other picks has no prior experience serving as a judge. The Democrat and Harvard Law School graduate will fill the vacancy created by the retirement last year of Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar — an appointee of Republican Governor Pete Wilson. But his appointment is unlikely to create any significant shift on the court, which mostly issues unanimous rulings.

No one spoke against Groban’s nomination at Friday’s hearing, though one commission member, state appellate court Justice J. Anthony Kline, said some judges and lawyers were concerned that the state Supreme Court would now have a majority of justices who had never served as judges.

Arthur Gilbert, a state appeals court justice who spoke in favor of Groban’s nomination, said he wasn’t worried about Groban’s lack of experience as a judge.

“He is so interested in seeking out views and he has such a warm connection with other people and a sympathy, a kind of understanding of human nature, that I think he’s going to be a superb justice despite not having been down in the trenches,” Gilbert said.

Groban has worked as a senior official in the governor’s office since 2011, and before that handled business lawsuits at private law firms.

In Brown’s office, he has advised the governor on high-profile legal issues, including the Trump administration’s lawsuit against California over laws protecting immigrants in the country illegally and the administration’s request to send National Guard troops to patrol the border, according to an application for a judicial appointment that Groban submitted to the governor’s office in July.

Additionally, he worked on appeals of court rulings that found state judges had been underpaid and that tenure, seniority and discipline rules for teachers were hurting students.

He was also the lead attorney for the state in settlement talks over working conditions for farm workers that resulted in changes to better protect workers from heat, according to his judicial appointment application.

Groban, however, said he was most proud of his work advising the governor on judicial appointments, noting the diversity of Brown’s roughly 600 picks. The governor appointed more than 450 judges based on Groban’s advice, and his work vetting judicial candidates helped give him “a strong sense of what makes a good judge,” he said in his application. Among the judicial picks Groban influenced were Brown’s three other appointments to the California Supreme Court.

Asked Friday about how he would approach conflicts in the law, Groban said he would look at what lawmakers intended. But when that’s not clear and the conflict remains unresolved, the court will have to consider “what is the just result, what is the fair result,” he said.

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