At the Beverly Hills Hotel she smiled, shook hands and posed with pictures with other members of her bench. “I love it” was the response when asked how she liked her new job. “There is never a dull moment.”
"Dull” is not a word one would associate with California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. She has spent the past five months defending the judicial system from legislative attacks, budget cuts and efforts to reduce her authority.
So when she was brushed off recently by a prominent state lawmaker Cantil-Sakauye was incensed.
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Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon (D-Whittier) argued that his bill decentralizing the judicial system was not a personal attack on the new female chief justice.
During a legislative hearing on the bill he stated that “It isn’t ‘is she nice?’ because she is. ‘Is she smart?’ because she is. ‘Is she attractive?” ‘cause she is. It isn’t about that.”
Would the “attractiveness” of a male chief justice ever be brought up on a legislative debate? Doubt it. But it wasn’t the sexism that irked Cantil-Sakauye. It was the disrespect paid to the branch of government that is now her responsibility..
“I was troubled by that because that kind of comment came in a substantive hearing” she said during a break at Tuesday’s luncheon with the Beverly Hills Bar Association. .”If we are at a dinner, at some sort of celebration and a comment like that was made, that would be different.”
Instead the assemblyman used the “attractiveness” line as part of a question from those critical of his bill.
The Chief was not pleased.
“When it comes from a majority leader in the context of a very serious hearing where courts are lining up, where all the attorneys there are on the side of judicial counsel opposing that bill, and a critical question is asked ‘why are you taking this power away from the new chief justice four months into her administration?’ that is when that answer is unresponsive, offensive and is not at all responsive to the question," Cantil-Sakauye said.
"So that’s the problem.”
Calderon has since said he meant no disrespect. Indeed the episode may have benefited the San Francisco-based high court.
Cantil-Sakauye had a reputation for being a “charmer” at the time of her appointment. The legislative branch has learned she's a fighter as well.
Watch a story on Cantil-Sakauye's firs six months on the job here.