California Forum

January 26, 2014

Off Topic: California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye spent an hour with The Bee’s editorial board last week talking about courts funding.

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye spent an hour with The Bee’s editorial board last week talking about courts funding.

She also went off topic.

Dan Morain: Should California create a separate court to review death penalty cases?

Cantil-Sakauye: We’d still have the same issues. We have over 700 people on death row. A fair number still need representation. We pay $145 an hour. When the state decides to put somebody to death, gratefully, it takes time. It is a long, deliberative process. Many factors are required for a solution. One of them, frankly, is an infusion of cash. There has been no talk in the Legislature of funding the death penalty process.

Gary Reed: What are the most interesting cases before the Supreme Court?

Cantil-Sakauye: One of our most interesting cases was the Garcia bar admission case (authorizing Sergio Garcia to practice law though he had come to California as a child without documentation), because of the interplay of state and federal law. I’m finding class-action cases interesting, and wage and hour cases.

Miller v. Alabama (in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life imprisonment without parole sentences for juvenile offenders.) We’re seeing broad cases at the California Supreme Court in reaction to U.S. Supreme cases. I wish I had all the time in the world to focus on those issues.

Morain: Which justices do you most admire?

Cantil-Sakauye: I feel privileged to work with the group I’m in. I respect their history and how they look at law and tradition. I feel privileged because I don’t know how long it will last.

I like working with Goodwin Liu. He didn’t come from a trial court. He didn’t come from an appellate court. He came from academia. He will say, ‘Why are you doing this?’ He challenges us. This group is the mix of the old and the new.

Morain: What about justices in history?

Cantil-Sakauye: I admire Rose Bird for a lot of reasons. In many ways, I feel it was the wrong time. It doesn’t seem like she had the tools to deal with all that was going on with the bench at that time, the acrimony. Sometimes, I feel she was misunderstood, and I read her opinions and think she had an agenda. Ultimately, it was the wrong timing for her, and I feel badly about that.

Jack Ohman: I read that you were a blackjack dealer?

Cantil-Sakauye: I was, in law school.

Ohman: Maybe you could give me some tips?

Cantil-Sakauye: I could, I suppose, but I’m not any good or else I wouldn’t be working for a living.

Reed: Could you spot people counting cards?

Cantil-Sakauye: Oh, yes. I saw teams of people counting. I learned after a season of dealing that they were basically engineers out of San Francisco. They’d leave a dozen roses at the end of the summer.

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