At his swearing-in ceremony last month, new California Lawyers Association President Emilio Varanini said when he thinks about the importance of lawyers and judges to our democracy he looks to the experience of his wife.
Joanna grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution. When her teacher explained that all the intellectuals were being sent to the countryside, 8-year-old Joanna dared to ask a question about what would happen to the peasants. As a result, she was taken out of school and her parents were threatened with arrest.
“All because she had the idea of asking a question,” Varanini told the members of CLA and the California Judges Association who gathered at the Monterey Plaza Hotel Oct. 12 for Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye’s swearing-in of the annual officers for both associations.
“So when we think of rule of law and we worry about arbitrary power without it, you in the California Judges Association, you are the frontline defenders of the rule of law, together with us,” Varanini said.
Educating the public to understand how our court system works and increasing the diversity of the lawyers and judges in the legal system are both crucial to ensuring that litigants come away from their court experiences feeling that the system is fair, he said.
Varanini’s comments echoed that of the incoming president of the California Judges Association, Orange County Superior Court Judge Tam Nomoto Schumann. She shared the story of her father’s reaction to seeing his daughter serving on the bench. Her usually stoic dad opened up about his military service.
“He told me: ‘I fought that war so a little oriental girl can dream and do all of this,’” Judge Schumann said.
Here are the rest of the CLA officers who were elected to one-year termsr: Vice President Jeremy Evans, Chair of the Board of Representatives Howard “Chip” Wilkins, Vice Chair of the Board of Representatives Betty Williams, Secretary Sara Rief and Treasurer Ryan Baron.
Also during the swearing-in ceremony, the Chief Justice accepted the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC).
In presenting the award to Cantil-Sakauye, NCSC President Mary McQueen said that with misinformation campaigns threatening to undermine the legitimacy of the courts and upend our democracy, civic education and engagement is more important than ever.
“If we’re going to succeed in defending the rule of law, independent courts and democratic institutions against this new generation of warfare, I think California will lead the way,” McQueen said.
Cantil-Sakauye has made civics education her signature initiative since she became Chief Justice of California in 2011.
Cantil-Sakauye thanked the many partners who have joined her in the effort, which was built on the work of the California Commission for Impartial Courts created by former Chief Justice Ronald George and led by Justice Ming Chin.
Cantil-Sakauye said it was particularly gratifying that the award she received was named after Sandra Day O’Connor, who was the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981, the year Cantil-Sakauye started law school. In honor of the milestone, Cantil-Sakauye’s all-woman pickup basketball team at UC Davis School of Law called themselves “Justice O and the Supremes.”
“None of us was over five foot four. But we were a scrappy, ball-stealing, unruly group,” she said.
In conjunction with the joint annual conferences of the CLA and CJA, Justice Judith McConnell spoke to 100 elementary students about civics, Outgoing CLA President Heather Rosing said.
Outgoing CLA President Heather Rosing commended the collaborative efforts of the judiciary and the statewide bar association.
“It’s wonderful this has all come together so beautifully,” Rosing said. “You are all terrific.”