San Diego Family Law Judge Becomes Chief Justice

In 2013, attorney Patricia Guerrero was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to be a judge for the San Diego County Superior Court.  She started off in one of the family law courtrooms and from there her rise to stardom has been astronomical.

Shortly after 2013, Judge Guerrero became the “second in command” in the Family Law Division, when she became the Assistant Supervising Judge.

It was not long before she became THE Supervising Judge in Family Law, succeeding the equally affable Judge Maureen Hallahan, now the Assistant Presiding Judge of the whole court.

Just four years later, Judge Guerrero became Justice Guerrero, earning an appointment from Governor Brown in 2017 to serve on the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division One.  This is the Court that reviews the decisions of the trial judges in San Diego and decides whether a reversal is in order or not.

Governor Newsom appointed Justice Guerrero to the California Supreme Court earlier this year.  With that appointment, Justice Guerrero joined six other jurists who make up the highest-ranking court in California and one of the most powerful courts in the United States.  It was a moment of pride for Justice Guerrero, who started her career in San Diego County.  You don’t find many San Diegans on the Supreme Court, even though –excuse me—we are the second largest county in California.  However, our neighbors in Imperial County might claim Justice Guerrero as their own, as that is where she grew up before going away to school and then working in public and private practice mostly in San Diego County.  (Associate Justice Joshua Groban, a Brown appointee, did go to Torrey Pines High School, so he’s another justice with connections to the homeland.)

The culminating promotion, however, occurred earlier this summer in the wake of the announcement that Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye would be stepping down after 12 years on the Supreme Court and 32 years as a member of California’s judiciary.  Governor Newsom wasted no time in selecting Justice Guerrero to be the new chief justice, even though she is the most junior member of the high court.

There is an important semantics lesson to all of this.  We frequently refer to the chief justice as the “chief justice of the California Supreme Court”.  That, as they say, is error.  Referring to Chief Justice John Roberts as the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court is also incorrect.  In actuality, the 50-year-old Justice Guerrero will be the “chief justice of California”.  Like her colleagues, she will oversee attorney discipline and admissions, be responsive for final decisions on judges who have gotten in trouble, and oversee the Judicial Council, which is the administrative arm of the California judicial system, and she will be the voice of the judicial branch – giving annual state of the judiciary addresses and working with the other two branches on budgetary matters.  Of course, when she is not doing these things, Chief Justice Guerrero will rule on cases.  For Supreme Court justices, those cases often involve death penalty matters, because a punishment of death imposed by a trial court automatically gets appealed to the Supreme Court, bypassing the Courts of Appeal.

Justice Guerrero will become the person who all other members of the California judiciary refer to in the third person as s “the chief”.  She will become the 29th “chief” in California history.