Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 46 / 16 November 2017
 

Gov appoints first openly gay judge

NEWS


m.bajko@ebar.com

Superior Court Judge Ron Albers. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's appointment of Ronald E. Albers to a judgeship on the San Francisco County Superior Court last week is believed to be the first time the Republican governor has selected an openly gay person for a judge seat.

Albers, 60, of San Francisco, has served as a commissioner for the Superior Court since 2002. He will earn $178,789 in his new post, to which he was sworn into Monday, June 15. The ceremony coincided with his wedding anniversary; he is married to Colin Alexander, his partner of 34 years.

In a brief phone interview Tuesday afternoon Albers said he was "absolutely honored and thrilled" when he received word about his appointment, which was announced last Thursday, June 11.

"It gives me an opportunity to continue to serve the people and I am particularly honored the governor would recognize my legal skills, abilities, and commitment to service in its full range of rainbow colors," said Albers, a Democrat who fills a vacancy created by the conversion of a court commissioner position on January 26, 2008.

The governor's office does not track the sexual orientation of its judicial appointments, despite requests from LGBT legal advocates that it do so. Several gay and lesbian lawyers contacted by the Bay Area Reporter said they could not recall another out person being named a judge by Schwarzenegger.

"I think it is wonderful," said Russ Roeca, a founding partner of the law firm Roeca Haas Hager and the openly gay president of the Bar Association in San Francisco. "We have asked the governor to open the application process to allow candidates to check off a box to identify as LGBT. They consider it to be a matter of privacy, but I think it is a matter of respect."

Albers earned a juris doctorate degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell College. From 1977 to 1978, he was the director for the Juvenile Justice Research Project, and from 1978 to 1979 was a trial attorney with Legal Services for Children.

From 1979 to 2001, he served as a trial attorney, and then head attorney, for the San Francisco County Public Defender's office. In 1996 he first ran for a seat on what was then known as municipal court. He tried a second time two years later for a seat on the re-named Superior Court but was once again unsuccessful.

He has long been an advocate for LGBT lawyers; in 1984 he was the founding co-chair of the National Lesbian Gay Law Association and in 1989 served as the national co-chair of the Lavender Law conference. Closer to home he helped found the Bay Area Layers for Individual Freedom, an LGBT legal group, and the AIDS Legal Referral Panel.

He also was the first gay vice president of the State Bar of California. Most recently he has presided over San Francisco's Community Justice Center, which funnels people arrested for various misdemeanors and drug charges within the Tenderloin into social service programs rather than jail. He said he expects to continue to be the center's judge following his recent promotion on the bench.

"It is probably the most cutting edge work our court system is doing," he said.

LGBT legal advocates hailed Albers's appointment and praised the governor for selecting someone from within the LGBT community.

"I love Ron Albers. He is going to do a phenomenal job. I am really happy for him," said Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Prozan, who first met him during his 1996 judicial campaign.

Openly gay attorney David Nathan-Allen Sims, who sits on BALIF's board, called the pick "huge" in light of the recent decision by the state Supreme Court to uphold the anti-same-sex marriage ban Proposition 8.

"It shows the governor's willingness to see that someone's sexual orientation in no way hinders their ability to be a judge," said Sims, who works at law firm Saveri & Saveri. "It is important to us to get more openly LGBT lawyers onto the courts. When there is an opening on the Supreme Court, I hope he remembers this as well."

Also last week Michael Nava, an openly gay staff attorney for California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, saw his desire to become the first out person to serve on San Francisco's 1st District Court of Appeal come to an end, for now, as he was passed over for three vacancies on the appellate court.

Nava has been on a list of qualified candidates for a seat on the appeals court for several years but has never been interviewed by the governor's judicial appointments secretary. He said last week that he was disappointed not to be selected but was pleased to learn of Albers's selection.

He said he was likely skipped over because he is not a sitting judge and was thinking of applying for a seat on the Superior Court, which has at least six vacancies. He said he would still push to see the appellate court include an out LGBT person.

"The judiciary needs diversity," he said. "They need people with a wide range of life experiences. I am not just gay and Latino, but I am from a working-class family. It is not your typical profile of a judge."






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