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Vance W. Raye: Find out more before voting against appellate justices

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Posted: Friday, October 31, 2014 10:38 pm

Most voters will not recognize seven names on their November ballot. They are Elena Duarte, Andrea Hoch, Louis Mauro, William Murray, Vance Raye and Ron Robie — justices currently serving on the Third District Court of Appeal — and Jonathan Renner, who was recently named to the court for a term beginning in January. There are no challengers in this non-partisan election; your choice is a “yes” or “no” vote.

Every four years, justices on appellate courts across the state appear on the November General Election ballot, and many voters inevitably wonder: “Who are these people I am asked to vote for? How can I learn something about them? And what is a Court of Appeal anyway?”

Here are some of the answers.

The Third Appellate District is one of six State of California intermediate appellate districts. It is the largest in area, stretching from the Oregon border south to Mono County and west to the coastal range.

Working in panels of three, the Court of Appeal reviews judgments of the Superior Courts in the 23 counties within the district. The Third District’s location in Sacramento makes this court unique among California’s intermediate appellate courts because of the number of complex appeals involving governmental powers and administration.

The justices currently on the court were appointed by four different governors over the course of five different gubernatorial administrations. Collectively, the seven individuals up for election have served more than 80 years on the bench and have more than 200 years of experience as lawyers and judges. Most are former prosecutors or members of the state Attorney General’s staff. They have worked diligently to make their appellate court one of the most efficient and productive in our state.

Still, very few voters will know much about the justices on our court. While my colleagues and I handle nearly 3,000 matters each year and write more than 1,000 opinions, few of our cases attract media attention. Unlike other office holders, we cannot hold press conferences or give interviews on our cases. While we try to make our opinions as readable as possible, and while they are available for reading on our website, they are rarely read by the public

And unlike other candidates on the November ballot, we are not elected to make policy decisions. We simply try our best to determine what the law is, and then apply the law to the case before us.

That is why the voters long ago decided to remove appellate offices from a process that would require them to engage in the usual electoral battles and to campaign for office. Instead, a selection process was established that required their qualifications for office to be reviewed by the State Bar and required them to appear before a three-person commission composed of the Chief Justice of California, the California Attorney General and the presiding justice of the district in which the nominee will serve. The commission holds public hearings and provides an opportunity for attorneys, other judges and the public to express their views. Only then are the justices or justice nominees presented to the electorate for consideration.

No candidate for any other office goes through the demanding selection process that appellate judges must pass through. Of course, voters are free to vote their mind. However, a vote against retention should be based on knowledge about a justice’s performance, and not because the voter has not heard about us. Given the nature of our jobs and the election process, few people will ever know much about us unless they take the time to seek information.

Presiding Justice Vance W. Raye of the 3rd District Court of Appeal has more than 20 years of experience as an appellate justice.

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