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California chief justice to retire in 2023

California's first Asian American chief justice will end her 32-year judicial career in 2023.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye will not seek another term in November.

“I have said before that I hold my office in trust until it is time for the next leaders to protect and expand access to justice —that time is now,” Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement Wednesday.

Her 12-year run will end when her term expires on Jan. 1, 2023, paving the way for Governor Gavin Newsom to make his third appointment to the state’s highest court.

“Through his efforts, and those of recent governors, he will have a diverse pool of exceptionally well qualified jurists and legal professionals to choose from, and I believe the judiciary, the courts, and access to justice in California will be in good hands,” Cantil-Sakauye said, adding that she informed Newsom of her decision and supports a smooth transition for her successor.

Born and raised in Sacramento by Filipino farmworker parents, Cantil-Sakauye’s judicial career has spanned 32 years. It began with an appointment to the Sacramento Municipal Court by Governor George Deukmejian in 1997 after working as his deputy legal affairs secretary, and before that as a county prosecutor. She was soon elevated to the Sacramento County Superior Court by Governor Pete Wilson, where she served until Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed her to a seat in the Third Appellate District in 2005. Schwarzenegger then chose her to lead the judicial branch in 2010 following the retirement of Chief Justice Ron George.

Cantil-Sakauye established herself as a moderate jurist on the left-leaning court, notable for its collegiality and sustained unanimity, writing seminal opinions like Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles, which established a new standard for worker classification, and Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs v. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County, which held that police misconduct files are not private and can be used when an officer testifies in a criminal case.

“We discussed, debated, and sometimes disagreed, but we were always focused on the rule of law and what was right and just,” Cantil-Sakauye said Wednesday.

She also famously left the Republican party in 2018, telling CalMatters at the time that her decision was influenced by the Senate confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

That same year, she ordered a change to the rule of court that made public the names of judges who used taxpayer dollars to settle sexual harassment and sex discrimination complaints.

In 2017, she sent U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions a letter asking that federal immigration officials stop pursuing undocumented immigrants at state courthouses. "Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country's immigration laws,” she wrote.

As chair of the rulemaking body for the courts, Cantil-Sakauye made "fair and equal access to justice” her mantra, standing against cash bail and civil assessment fees that she said unfairly penalized the poor. Last year, the court ruled that judges must consider a person’s ability to pay when setting bail.

"As chief justice I continue to keep in mind the faces behind the cases and remain focused on the goal of providing all Californians with equal, fair, and accessible justice," she said Wednesday.

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