Lesbian SF attorneyup for CA judicial seat
by Matthew S. Bajko
Over Pride weekend Governor Jerry Brown nominated one of the key litigators in the state's marriage equality lawsuits to a seat on the California Court of Appeal.
His appointment of Therese M. Stewart to Division Two of the First District Court of Appeal marks the first time an out lesbian has been named to the appellate bench. She would fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice James R. Lambden.
If confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments sometime this summer, Stewart would become the second out judge on the First District Court of Appeal. The first was San Francisco resident James M. Humes, a longtime gay aide to Brown whom the governor named to the appellate court in 2012.
On the same day Brown named Stewart as his pick to fill the vacant court seat, he also announced the appointment of Humes, 54, as the presiding justice of the First District Court of Appeal's Division One. He would fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice James J. Marchiano.
Humes will also need to be confirmed by the appointments commission, which consists of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and First District Court of Appeal Senior Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline.
Stewart, 57, of San Francisco, has served as chief deputy city attorney at the San Francisco City Attorney's Office since 2002.
In that role she led the office's successful litigation through the state court system to win marriage rights for same-sex couples in 2008. After voters reversed that decision at the ballot box that fall, Stewart represented the city in the federal lawsuit against the anti-gay ballot measure, known as Proposition 8.
On a technicality the U.S. Supreme Court in June last year upheld lower court rulings that Prop 8 was unconstitutional, paving the way for same-sex nuptials to resume in the Golden State.
Last fall it was revealed that Stewart had applied with Brown's judicial secretary to be considered for any vacancy that occurred on the First District Court of Appeal, which is based in San Francisco and is located kitty-corner to San Francisco City Hall in the city's Civic Center area. She received the call from the governor's office at 2:30 p.m. last Friday, June 27 at the start of the city's annual LGBT Pride weekend.
"I am really excited," Stewart told the Bay Area Reporter in a brief phone interview Monday, June 30 from Massachusetts where she was helping her daughter move. "It is bittersweet as well because my time with the city has just been amazing."
Hired in 2002 by City Attorney Dennis Herrera to help oversee his office's litigation, Stewart had been a director at Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk and Rabkin PC, which she first joined as an associate in 1982.
"Dennis is just wonderful to work with," she said. "There are so many brilliant and lovely people in the office I have gotten to work with."
In a statement Herrera praised Stewart and noted the historic nature of her appointment to the appellate bench.
"Terry Stewart was my very first hire after I was elected city attorney, and it has been an extraordinary honor to have someone with her intelligence, dedication and passionate commitment to justice serve as my chief deputy for more than a dozen years," stated Herrera. "I'd be lying if I didn't concede a degree of personal disappointment in knowing that she won't be standing by my side in the City Attorney's Office anymore. But I am incredibly proud of Terry for all she has accomplished in her career, for her appointment to the California Court of Appeal today, and for shattering one more historic barrier as California's first lesbian-identified appellate court justice."
Noting that "on a weekend in which San Francisco celebrates LGBT equality," Herrera stated "Terry Stewart's historic appointment is still more cause to celebrate - not just for the LGBT community, but for all Californians who'll be so ably served by her remarkable gifts on the judiciary."
Stewart graduated from Cornell University and earned her law degree from UC Berkeley's School of Law. She married her wife, attorney Carole Scagnetti, in August of 2008 at a City Hall ceremony prior to the passage of Prop 8 that November.
Stewart and Humes, both Democrats, would earn $207,463 in their judicial positions.
The appointments commission will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday, July 17 to consider Humes and at 11 a.m. that morning to consider Stewart. It is highly unlikely that the pair will not be confirmed to their respective seats on the bench.
"I just am lucky and honored to be able to have yet another great adventure in the law," said Stewart.