California Judicial Mentor Program (Appellate): Frequently Asked Questions

The California Judicial Mentorship Program will operate through separate initiatives in the trial and the appellate courts.  Its overall goal, designed to enhance public trust in the courts, is to improve transparency and accessibility for all members of the legal community throughout California, fostering the development of a qualified and diverse judicial applicant pool.

To answer some basic questions about this program and how it is set up to work, we have prepared the following set of questions and answers:


California is fortunate to have a longstanding tradition of merit-based judicial selection.  Our judiciary is also one of the most diverse in the country.  But we cannot take either of these features of California’s judicial system for granted.  Governor Newsom has recognized that we must work proactively at continuing to improve these features of our judicial system. 

Several Superior Courts around the state have already established judicial mentorship programs in their counties.   These programs are typically designed to have an outreach component, in which judges work with bar groups and other sources of applicants, and a one-on-one mentoring component, in which prospective applicants are paired with participating judges.

The structure of our program is similar to the programs that have been set up in the Superior Courts.  But there are many unique aspects of judicial selection at the appellate level.  Because there are so few appellate vacancies compared to those in the superior courts, because so much of our work takes place outside of public view, and because there is even less publicly-known information about career pathways to the appellate bench than there is for the trial courts, our program is designed to provide information that may assist prospective applicants in evaluating whether to apply for an appellate vacancy, when to do so if they choose to apply, and to prepare them for the selection process.  We will be providing pre-application support, not support during the application process itself.  The goal is to bring as many applicants into the application process as possible based on the self-assessment of each prospective applicant about whether it is worthwhile to apply.  While we will be providing information about the application process, we will not be vetting the merits of any judicial application.  That is the exclusive prerogative of the Governor as the appointing authority.     

The program has two components, an outreach component and a mentoring component.  Described generally, these two components of the program will work as follows.

For the outreach component of our program, we will work with Superior Courts and bar associations to arrange visits by participating Justices of our court, who will make presentations and answer questions for groups of interested prospective applicants.

For the mentorship component of our program, we will take applications from prospective mentees.  Please note that these applications are not designed to be short-form applications to the bench.  The application form is designed to gather enough basic information about the applicant so that appropriate matching to a mentor can be done.   It may also be that we will have to place some applicants to the program on a waiting list until enough mentors are available to meet the need for mentoring services.

Once applicants are accepted into the program, we will offer two forms of mentoring.  First, depending on the number of Justices who are available to serve as mentors, we hope to provide one-on-one mentoring.  Second, since at any given time we may have more mentees in the program than we can serve on a one-on-one basis, we expect that some mentees will be assigned to mentoring groups.  Whether mentoring takes place on a one-on-one basis or in a group setting, the assigned mentor Justice will arrange to meet or speak by phone with the mentee(s) at least twice over a six month period.      

Since there are statutory minimum eligibility requirements to be a judicial officer, we will screen mentee applications according to those requirements.  To be eligible for appointment to the California Court of Appeal or any other California court, a person must have been a member of the State Bar of California or a judge of a court in this state for at least 10 years.  (Cal. Const. Art. VI, § 15.)   We will also be screening applicants for public discipline imposed by the State Bar or by the Commission on Judicial Performance (CJP).  Any applicant with a public record of State Bar imposed or CJP imposed discipline will be ineligible for acceptance into the program.

No one will be successful applying for the bench, at either the trial or appellate level, without serious commitment to and considerable investment of time in the process of applying for an appointment.  Our mentors will be available to discuss what that level of commitment entails.  As noted above, we expect that mentors will meet with mentees twice over the course of six months.  But depending on the level of readiness and commitment applicants show, mentors in their discretion may decide to spend more time with their mentees over a longer period.

We hope to “demystify” the process of appellate judicial selection by giving prospective applicants access to insights from those who made the decision to apply, went through the process from beginning to end, and are able to share insights about the process based on personal experience.   

We also hope to provide information about the responsibilities of an appellate judge, the skill-set that is required in the job of an appellate judge, and the work regimen of an appellate judge. 

Finally, we hope to provide information about what might be characterized as the “mechanics” of applying for an appellate vacancy that may be helpful to prospective applicants and what kind of information about themselves that they should be ready to provide on the application.

No. 

Obviously, however, given the specialized nature of our work in the appellate courts, it is helpful for appellate court applicants to have experience with the appellate process and a well-honed skill-set that matches the work we do as appellate judges.  Excellent writing skills are essential.  Experience with criminal matters can be helpful, since over half of our work consists of criminal law matters or cases that arise in areas that are closely related to the criminal law (e.g. juvenile delinquency cases).  Experience with complex civil litigation can also be helpful.  But beyond general considerations such as these, the strengths of successful applications to the appellate bench tend to vary widely.     

Yes.

Planning to apply for an appellate court vacancy, sometimes years in advance, is very important. Our mentors will be available to discuss planning topics such as (1) record-keeping during the course of one’s career that may be of assistance in filling out an appellate judicial application (2) career choices and career experiences that may be helpful to consider developing so that, one day, they may enhance the range of skills shown in an appellate judicial application (i.e. different kinds of judicial assignments handled by a sitting judge, or subject matter expertise in an attorney’s case experience); volunteer work (i.e. committee work, pro tem assignments) and (3) teaching experience or publishing activity that might strengthen an appellate judicial application.

We will endeavor to keep confidential any application to this program and any notifications of expected appellate court vacancies.  Once mentee applicants are accepted into the program, we also expect the conversations between mentors and mentees will be held in confidence, by both the mentor and the mentee.  This will promote frankness and a willingness to share information, on both sides. 

First, mentees who participate in the program should not expect that, in an application for an appellate court appointment, listing the fact of their acceptance and participation in the program will give them an advantage in the selection process.   The Governor’s office has emphasized that, in its own review and vetting of judicial applications, it will give no weight to the fact that an applicant has been a mentee in our program.

Second, absent a pre-existing relationship that gives a mentor prior personal knowledge of the mentee, mentors will not serve as references to mentees, should the mentee decide to apply for an appellate judicial vacancy.

Third, mentees should not expect to receive assistance from mentors in filling out or editing an application for an appellate court vacancy.