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Full Biography for George W. Nicholson
Justice Nicholson is a member of the Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District.
Previously, he was a trial judge; a senior assistant attorney general; executive director, California District Attorneys Association; and a senior trial deputy district attorney. As a jurist and a lawyer, he has handled every conceivable kind of trial and appeal.
He is a Master of the Bench Emeritus in the Anthony M. Kennedy American Inn of Court, McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific. The Inns of Court comprise the only nationally organized effort dedicated to improving the professionalism, civility, and ethics of judges, lawyers and law students.
Before joining the bench, he wrote the Victims' Bill of Rights and helped defend it in the courts after voters passed it overwhelmingly in 1982.
Justice Nicholson believes judges must not rewrite legislation to satisfy their, rather than the Legislature's, sense of balance and order. Good judges learn early that they are not "knight[s]-errant, roaming at will in pursuit of [their] own ideal of beauty or of goodness." Thus, Justice Nicholson believes judges should interpret and not make law. Making law is up to the state legislature and the governor, or to the people through the initiative process, not judges.
A Biographical Sketch of Justice Nicholson's Legal Career
George W. Nicholson has been a state court judge for 23 years. He is now an Associate Justice on the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, State of California, a position he has held since 1990. He served three times, by assignment of the Chief Justice, as a pro tempore associate justice on the California Supreme Court.
In 1998, for the second time, voters of the Third Appellate District, confirmed Justice Nicholson. His court's 23-county-appellate-district is located in the northeastern quadrant of California. Among other cities and towns, his district includes Sacramento, Auburn, Placerville, Stockton, Davis, Chico, and Redding.
Because it is based in the State Capitol, the Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, has one of the heaviest and toughest workloads of any appellate district in the state. From 1990, through June 30, 2010, Justice Nicholson authored more than 2,700 appellate opinions. He has joined in more than 5,300 other opinions authored by his judicial colleagues. Thus, in all, he has participated in more than 8,000 opinions, or almost one third of the more than 26,482 cases decided by his court during his time with it. Those opinions deal with the full range of civil, criminal, administrative, and government law. He has also worked on thousands of other emergency writ and appellate proceedings.
Before his first judicial appointment, the trial court bench in 1987, by Governor George Deukmejian, Justice Nicholson had a varied career in the law. Admitted to the California Bar in 1968, he worked in the Alameda County District Attorney's office, rising to the level of Senior Trial Deputy District Attorney, prosecuting all categories of crime, including capital murder. After almost a decade as a county prosecutor, he moved to Sacramento to be the Executive Director of the California District Attorneys Association. He returned to public service as a Senior Assistant Attorney General in the State Department of Justice. Later, he moved on to the Governor's Office of Planning and Research as Deputy Director for Special Projects for the Governor.
He wrote the text of the Victims' Bill of Rights, which was passed by the voters as Proposition 8 in 1982. Thereafter, for the first time in California history, crime victims had constitutional rights. He represented roughly two dozen parents of murdered children for a time in victims' rights litigation before the California Supreme Court.
Justice Nicholson, Judge Lois Haight of the Contra Costa Superior Court, and former director of the California Department of Corrections, James Rowland, received Pioneer Awards for their lifetime efforts on behalf of crime victims. The awards came at the conclusion of a two-day, 2007 symposium, conducted by McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific. The symposium, Crime Victims' Rights -- The Third Wave, marked the 25th anniversary of voter approval of the Victims' Bill of Rights. It examined the enforcement of crime victims' rights on the national stage.
Justice Nicholson and Judge Haight earlier addressed a 2005 gathering of crime victims at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library observing the 25th anniversary of National Crime Victims Week, A Tribute to Crime Victims Rights in California.
For related work, Justice Nicholson received the American Judges Association's 1998 Award of Merit for Outstanding Contributions to the Judiciary; prior recipients include United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Chief Justice Richard Holmes of Kansas, and Dean Robert Payant, National Judicial College.
Justice Nicholson conceived, drafted and then sought and obtained legislative and gubernatorial approval of a law, including state funding, for a judicial pilot project providing literacy programs for youth and adult criminal probationers, ages 18-25, in the early 1990s. He worked on a second, related project. He worked with the Elk Grove Unified School District, Adult Education Division, to create a spin-off literacy project for inmates of the Rio Consumnes Correctional Center. He received an award from the Sacramento County Probation Department for these efforts.
Justice Nicholson has worked to improve the administration of justice throughout California. He has published articles and participated in forums and commissions to study the future of the California judiciary. He has fostered prudent, cost-effective appellate practices and procedures. He has encouraged wise use of technology. (See Nicholson, "A Vision Of The Future of Appellate Practice and Process," 2 Journal of Appellate Practice and Process 229 (Summer 2000); and see Nicholson, "The Courthouse of the Future," Research in Law and Policy Studies, volume 4, 337 (1995); Nicholson and Hogge, "Retooling Criminal Justice: Forging Workable Governance from Dispersed Powers," Selected Essays, The National Conference on Legal Information Issues, American Association of Law Libraries (1996).)
For two years, Justice Nicholson was chair of an advisory committee of state, federal, and tribal judges that oversaw a national project, the Justice Web Collaboratory, to assist judges to learn about computer applications and to utilize the Internet in their daily, judicial work. The Justice Web Collaboratory operated under the joint auspices of the National Center for State Courts and the Chicago-Kent School of Law.
Justice Nicholson and Court/Community Outreach
"Judges must accept primary responsibility for reaching out to the public and [they must recognize] they are effective communicators and educators when they apply themselves to the task." (Editorial, Judicature, 204 (March-April 1997).) Moreover, court/community outreach is now a judicial function in California. (Title 10 - Standards for Judicial Administration, Standard 10.5 - The Role of the Judiciary in the Community.)
As a result, Justice Nicholson's court conducts an outreach program by which court proceedings are conducted before hundreds of high school students throughout the Third Appellate District. The program was recognized by the California Judicial Council as exemplary.
Justice Nicholson engages in other court outreach projects. Here a few examples:
September 11, 2001: In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Justice Nicholson helped plan and conduct a national educational program. He was an advisor to Dean Thomas Johnson, School of Public Safety and Professional Studies, University of New Haven. The result is a graduate studies and certification program relating to national security and homeland defense of our nation. To foster great public safety, one major element of this graduate studies curriculum addresses the ways and means to integrate pertinent civil and military institutions, as well as relevant international entities, through integrated technologies. Justice Nicholson taught several classes in the initial semesters, including "NSP 603, National Security Charter, Legal Issues and Executive Orders."
A lifelong baseball fan, Justice Nicholson worked closely with Branch Rickey III, President, Pacific Coast League, to bring together players, coaches, umpires, and school administrators, along with college, university, and law professors, to conduct baseball and freedom educational programs during several annual Cooperstown Symposia on Baseball and American Culture at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in New York. These educational programs promoted good sportsmanship and playing by the rules, on the playing field and off, everywhere in America. (See Nicholson, "Kindred Spirits, Humble Heroes: Branch Rickey and William Wilberforce," The Abolitionist Examiner, April 1, 2007.)
Justice Nicholson worked with the Sacramento River Cats to plan and present annual Presiding Justice Robert K. Puglia Awards during a special night each year at Raley Field during which high school student athletes are honored who excel in baseball (boys) and softball (girls), and display outstanding sportsmanship on and off the field, outstanding scholarship, and outstanding civic leadership. (See Bob Hemond, "Bob Puglia and Baseball," 36 McGeorge Law Review 747, 2005.)
Justice Nicholson worked with the Sacramento River Cats to present annual Emmett Ashford Awards during a special night each year beginning in 2006 at Raley Field during which youth and adult baseball and softball umpires are honored who are exemplary at umpiring and public service.
The annual Puglia Awards and Ashford Awards are now utilized by student recipients in their college applications and in their petitions to help them to gain entry into college and into extra-curricular, collegiate activities.
Justice Nicholson helped conceive and establish the "Highest Office: Citizen" movie program held annually at the Crest Theater in Sacramento for roughly 1,000 students. The first of those movie programs was held in 2004 in observance of the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. It was a "Second World Premiere" of the movie, Separate But Equal. It featured 16 segments of the film carefully selected by professional film editors. Between these segments, Justice Nicholson questioned a distinguished panel, including the film's director and producer, George Stevens Jr.; Judge Consuelo Callahan, United States Court of Appeal, Ninth Circuit; USC Vice Provost for Globalization, Adam Clayton Powell, III; and Sharon Robinson, Jackie Robinson's daughter and a Vice President of Major League Baseball. Exchanges between Justice Nicholson and the panelists were punctuated by probing questions from the students. Justice Nicholson worked with the Center for Youth Citizenship and e.Republic on this project, as well as the Sacramento County Bar Association, Asian Bar of Sacramento, Wiley Manuel Bar Association, La Raza Lawyers, and schools and districts of the Sacramento Region, Sacramento NAACP, Greater Sacramento Urban League, 100 Black Men of Sacramento, and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.
From its inception, Justice Nicholson was a member of the Advisory Committee, Donald W. Reynolds National Center for the Courts and the Media, National Judicial College (2000-2002). The Reynolds Center is dedicated to "developing the dialogue about the frequent tension between the right to a fair trial and that of a free press." The Reynolds National Center for the Courts and Media works to strengthening an independent judiciary and a free press. Through its educational work the center ensures that judges and journalists recognize the inherent conflicts in their relationship and to deal with them civilly and responsibly, while, at the same time, develop insight into their respective roles.
One Lawyer's Thoughtful View of Justice Nicholson
James A. Rapp, of the Illinois Bar and author of the seven volume treatise, Education Law, has known Justice Nicholson for almost 30 years. The two men worked together on school safety programs nationwide and co-authored a book, with the late Frank Carrington of the Virginia Bar, School Crime and Violence, Victims' Rights, Pepperdine University Press, 1992.
The two men met after Justice Nicholson organized and founded the National School Safety Center and while teaching at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology, Pepperdine University. The latter was in a school safety graduate studies program for teachers and peace officers.
Justice Nicholson also drafted the nation's first constitutional right to safe schools which California voters adopted in 1982. Mr. Rapp credits this constitutional mandate with starting the movement to make school safety a national priority.
While Chair, Juvenile Justice Subcommittee, Working Group on Criminal Law and Procedure, National Federalist Society, Justice Nicholson worked closely with Mr. Rapp and Troy Eid, Chief Counsel to Colorado Governor Bill Owens, to plan and conduct a panel discussion, "Did the Law Cause Columbine?" held in Washington, D.C., at the National Press Club. It was telecast live, nationwide, in August 1999, on C-SPAN. Several distinguished scholars served as panelists, including Mr. Rapp, Mr. Eid, and Chief Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, among others. (See McCormick, Nicholson, Rosinek, Tanenbaum, and Rapp, "Citizens Urged to Collaborate, Act Against Violence," School Safety, 4, National School Safety Center (Spring 1998); and Rivero, "Spreading Order Instantaneously," Converge Magazine, 38 (November 1998).)
In a note to Justice Nicholson, Mr. Rapp made the following observation:
"In the book, Anatomy of a Murder, author Robert Traver described a judge assigned to a particular trial: 'Judges, like people, may be divided roughly into four classes: judges with neither head nor heart - they are to be avoided at all costs; judges with head but no heart - they are almost as bad; then judges with heart but no head - risky but better than the first two; and finally, those rare judges who possess both head and a heart - thanks to blind luck, that's our judge.' I feel that way about you, Nick. The raw facts do not tell the full story about your career, of you as a person or as a judge. Take a famous painting and describe its elements - there are reds and blues and greens, and there is some oil and varnish - or describe a building - its glass and bricks and stone - but they do not tell all. What I really believe is that the facts comprise the trail you have left behind, but it does not tell the really inspiring story of your career. The Anatomy of a Murder quote really did come to my mind as I was thinking about this. You are one of those rare individuals I have had the pleasure of knowing who in fact has both head and a heart."
In a different context, Vince Lombardi, former Green Bay Packers coach whose teams won the first two Super Bowls, 1967-1968, said something similar, not about Justice Nicholson, but about the importance of having head and heart of which Mr. Traver and Mr. Rapp wrote, "Every time a football player goes to ply his trade he's got to play from the ground up - from the soles of his feet right up to his head. Every inch of him has to play. Some guys play with their heads. That's okay. You've got to be smart to be number one in any business. But more importantly, you've got to play with your heart, with every fiber of your body. If you're lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he's never going to come off the field second."
Justice Nicholson's Judicial Philosophy
A judge must not rewrite legislation to satisfy his, rather than the Legislature's, sense of balance and order. Good judges learn early that they are not "knight[s]-errant, roaming at will in pursuit of [their] own ideal of beauty or of goodness." Thus, Justice Nicholson believes judges should interpret and not make law. Making law is up to the state legislature and the governor, or to the people through the initiative process, not judges.
One of Justice Nicholson's judicial heroes, former Associate Supreme Court Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo of the United States Supreme Court is one of America's most eloquent and respected jurists. Justice Cardozo has left an indelible guide for good judges everywhere: "The judge, even when he is free, is still not wholly free. He is not to innovate at pleasure. He is not a knight-errant roaming at will in pursuit of his own ideal of beauty or of goodness. He is to draw his inspiration from consecrated principles. He is not to yield to spasmodic sentiment, to vague and unregulated benevolence. He is to exercise a discretion informed by tradition, methodized by analogy, disciplined by system, and subordinated to 'the primordial necessity of order in the social life.' Wide enough in all conscience is the field of discretion that remains." (Benjamin Cardozo, The Nature of the Judicial Process, at page 141 (1921).)
Justice Nicholson's long career unmistakably demonstrates that he has taken his original oath of judicial office seriously and adheres to it faithfully. He fully recognizes his solemn duty as a judge to honor that oath by: (1) Supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; (2) Bearing true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; (3) Observing principled deference to the other branches and levels of government, and to their distinctive constitutional burdens and prerogatives; (4) Adhering to stare decisis of the decisions of higher courts (this is commonly called sticking to precedent); and (5) Respecting the power of citizens through the initiative process.
Justice Cardozo provides one final, key element of Justice Nicholson's judicial philosophy: "But justice, though due the accused, is due the accuser also. The concept of fairness must not be strained till it is narrowed to a filament. We are to keep the balance true." (Snyder v. Mass. (1934) 291 U.S. 97, 122.) This has not always been so in California or America. (See, e.g., Nicholson, Condit, and Greenbaum, Forgotten Victims: An Advocate's Anthology, California District Attorneys Association (1977); Carrington and Nicholson, "The Victims' Rights Movement: An Idea Whose Time Has Come," 11 Pepperdine Law Review 1 (1984); Carrington and Nicholson, "The Victims' Rights Movement: An Idea Whose Time Has Come - Five Years Later: The Maturing of An Idea," 17 Pepperdine Law Review 1 (1989); Nicholson, "Victims' Rights, Remedies, and Resources: A Maturing Presence in American Jurisprudence," 23 Pacific Law Journal 815, 1992; Rapp, Carrington, and Nicholson, School Crime and Violence: Victims' Rights, 2d edition, Pepperdine University Press, 1992.)
Justice Nicholson's Top Priorities for 2011
1. Due to California's self-imposed budget crisis, the state judiciary has, of necessity, made substantial cuts in some of its vital operations. I intend to do my part in the coming year to help my court deal responsibly with the current, tough economic times while maintaining full, uninterrupted court services to the citizens of the Third Appellate District. Judges, like everyone else, must remember that freedom is not free. (See Robert K. Puglia, "Freedom is Not Free," at page 751, and Arthur G. Scotland, "Epitome of Excellence: The Legacy of Robert K. Puglia," at page 725, both in 36 McGeorge Law Review (2005).)
2. I intend to promote improved cooperation between the three branches of government, to encourage their effective, shared use of technology in criminal, civil, and administrative justice, and to facilitate citizen access to the judiciary.
3. I intend to continue encouraging the California Center for Judicial Education and Research to establish a permanent crime victims' judicial education curriculum for trial judges, appellate justices, and court administrators at all levels.
4. Most importantly, as I always have, I intend to uphold my oath of office, fully and faithfully, and to decide every case that come before me, fairly, impartially, in a timely manner, and with fealty to the United States Constitution, the California Constitution, and to legislative enactments, whether adopted by the Legislature or adopted by the People through the initiative.
Justice Nicholson's Family and Early Life
Justice Nicholson and his wife, Brenda, were married in 1959, and celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2009. They enjoy spending time with their daughter and son, their son-in-law and daughter-in-law, and their four granddaughters. They also enjoy working in their garden and forest, and staying fit by working out regularly in their home gym, and, occasionally, travelling.
In the early years of his marriage, Justice Nicholson filled a variety of jobs throughout college and law school. He belonged to the Ornamental Iron Workers Union at one point and began, owned, and operated a successful business at another point. That business was his family's sole source of income during his senior year in college and throughout law school. He sold the business profitably when he became a lawyer.
Throughout his life, Justice Nicholson has been involved in sports. He played varsity baseball in high school and college. He organized, managed, and played semi-professional baseball for many years after that. He and his family were avid skiers for decades. He served for two years on the pit crew of his son-in-law's NASCAR racing team.
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