Arthur Gilbert, Presiding Justice of Division 6 of the California Courts of Appeal, Second District by LawCrossing

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Arthur Gilbert is a presiding justice of division 6 of the California Courts of Appeal, Second District. Arthur Gilbert is popular blog Gilbert Submits.

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                            Arthur Gilbert, Presiding Justice of Division 6 of the
                            California Courts of Appeal, Second District
                            [by Regan Morris]
                            Known for his quick wit and concise, well-written decisions, appellate court Justice Arthur Gilbert is also
                            known for his popular blog Gilbert Submits. LawCrossing speaks with the California-based Gilbert about his
                            career as a judge.




Arthur Gilbert is one of the most well known       After contemplating a career as a jazz              a point of view. So what a judge is doing is
judges in California. A jazz pianist, blogger,     musician and abandoning an advanced                 taking the points of view of the lawyers and
and prolific writer, Gilbert laughs easily; but    degree in literature, Gilbert attended law          trying to see through what the problem is
he takes his responsibility as a jurist very       school and started his legal career as a            really about and…make a reasoned decision
seriously.                                         deputy city attorney for the City of Los            that complies with the law,” he said.
                                                   Angeles in the criminal division. Two years
As Presiding Justice of Division 6 of the          later, he joined a small firm, specializing         Judges who make decisions and then leave
California Courts of Appeal, Second District,      in commercial transactions and civil and            the bench without explaining their rulings
Gilbert says judges have an obligation to          criminal litigation. That firm eventually           infuriate Gilbert. In the court of appeals,
carefully explain their decisions, slashing        became Leonard & Gilbert.                           Gilbert said his first draft of a written ruling
through legalese and writing in layman’s                                                               is often just the beginning. He writes through
terms. To that end, he has been teaching at        “They were young lawyers. They were my              the problem, explaining it to himself. Then
the California Center for Judicial Education       age, and one was a little older. They were          he strives to clarify in his rewrites. A stickler
and Research at the Judges College in              very aggressive and dynamic, and we just            for language, Gilbert uses his blog to attack
Berkeley, CA, on and off since 978. Gilbert       sort of hit it off,” he said. “I was offered some   misuses of language, recently blasting an
himself studied at the college in 976.            jobs from some big firms, but that huge big-        attorney for using the word “parameter”
                                                   firm mentality didn’t appeal to me.”                incorrectly—but he’s not cruel and doesn’t
“As a judge, you have tremendous power;
                                                                                                       name names.
and it’s got to be used sparingly. I think you
                                                   Gilbert knew California governor Jerry
can be a judge and a human being at the
                                                   Brown from their days at Berkeley, which            Gilbert Submits contains a collection of
same time by being compassionate, by not
                                                   helped when he put his name in the hat for a        essays Gilbert has written for the legal
abusing your power, by treating the lawyers
                                                   position on the court. States generally have        newspaper the Los Angeles Daily Journal
and litigants with respect,” he said. “My goal
                                                   strict review boards for judiciary positions,       “to a confused but devoted readership.” On
is to write with clarity and precision. And it
                                                   but ultimately, the governor decides who is         his blog, Gilbert explains his role as that of
doesn’t have to be heavy legalese to sound
                                                   appointed to the bench in California and most       a “probing columnist on a fruitless quest
impressive. I think you can do the job by
                                                   other states.                                       to reveal the underbelly of society and the
writing in English so people can understand
                                                                                                       justice system.”
what you’re saying and not fudging, by
                                                   “Somebody asked William O. Douglas, the
making clear-cut decisions readable and
                                                   great Supreme Court Justice, ‘What does             The blog started as a result of people asking
intelligible.”
                                                   it take to be a Supreme Court Justice?’             for copies of old stories he had written for
                                                   And he said, ‘Well, it sure helps to know a         the Daily Journal. A friend suggested he
Like many judges, Gilbert started in traffic
                                                   president,’” Gilbert said, adding that he knew      publish his own archive online.
court. Los Angeles has the largest traffic
                                                   he felt at home after his first day on the
court in the world, and he enjoyed the
                                                   bench and that he never wanted to practice          With his chambers in Southern California’s
challenge. When he first started as a judge
                                                   law again.                                          Ventura County, Gilbert says the court has an
in his late 30s, he noticed a disproportionate
                                                                                                       appealingly casual seaside atmosphere. For
number of Hispanic people had warrants for
                                                   “The difference between being a judge and           attorneys interested in moving to the bench,
their arrest for failing to appear in court.
                                                   a lawyer is immense; it’s a huge gulf. You          Gilbert says building a strong reputation is
Gilbert created bilingual tickets in Spanish
                                                   may speak the same legal language, but the          the best way. And attorneys should submit
and English, which greatly reduced this
                                                   lawyer is at your mercy trying to present           their names to judicial-review committees.
number.

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Knowing the governor helps, but it won’t get        If court ever became routine, Gilbert said,      don’t think I’ve ever reversed one of those
you far without the reputation to back it up.       he would strive not to have a bureaucratic       cases,” he said. “I have an oath of office that I
And new judges should be prepared to start          attitude and never forget that these are         took, and I have to decide cases on the merit
at small, municipal courts and work their           real people with real problems. Whether a        of the cases and the law. And whether I like
way up. Gilbert said he never felt working          judge is conservative- or liberal-leaning is     the law or don’t like the law isn’t the point.”
as a judge in traffic court was dull or a step      often blown out of proportion in the public
down after trying big criminal cases.               and media, Gilbert says. People who slam
                                                    “activist judges” often want the judges to be    Does he ever feel sorry for people he
“We did an awful lot of drunk driving cases.        activists.                                       sentences—particularly in the three-strikes
It may sound routine, and it does get routine                                                        cases, which some view as too harsh?
after a while; but it does have moments,” he        He cites the Terri Schiavo case as an
said. “It’s a huge court. This is a court that is   example. The judiciary was accused of            “I might feel sorry for an individual person
many people’s only contact with the judicial        arrogance for refusing “to follow the law.”      in some cases, but the point is by ruling in
system. And small claims court, that’s              The judge in that case was a deeply religious    accordance with the law, as you should, you
another one. That’s really an important court       man and was criticized by his church for         are actually upholding the integrity of the
because the impression people have of the           ordering Schiavo’s feeding tube removed,         judicial system and making it one that’s fair
judiciary, they get from those experiences.         Gilbert said. He rejects criticism that judges   to everyone,” he said. “And that gives me
So I think it’s really important for judges to      too often make activist rulings.                 a good feeling knowing that I’m doing that,
be sensitive to that fact and to be very open                                                        even though I may have sympathy for an
to different milieus.”                              “We have a three-strikes law in California.      individual in a case.”
                                                    It’s one law that I’m not crazy about, and I




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