State Bar: Gov’s pick for bench isn’t qualified

The State Bar of California‘s Board of Governors has just disclosed that former San Bernardino County Republican Party chairman Elia Pirozzi, a Rancho Cucamonga real-estate lawyer named by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in May to the San Bernardino County Superior Court, was appointed despite a “not qualified” evaluation rating by the bar’s Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission (JNE).

Pirozzi was the county’s GOP chair from 2000-03; he and his wife founded an Inland Empire real estate company now known as Coldwell Banker Western Properties, where Diane Pirozzi is still president. He also ran for the 42nd Congressional District seat in 1998, 1999 and 2000, as well as in the 63rd Assembly District GOP primary in 2004; he lost that latter race by a 151-vote margin to Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands.

By law, JNE evaluates judicial candidates, rates their qualifications and reports to the governor; it’s not authorized to make public its findings except when the State Bar’s Board of Governors votes to do so following the appoinment of a “not qualified” candidate. The board voted to do so Friday. State Bar spokeswoman Diane Curtis told me today that the JNE has no authority to disclose any details of the evaluation, only the result.

The governor’s office hasn’t returned my calls yet…

UPDATE @ 4:45 P.M. MONDAY: I just got back to my desk and found this statement from Schwarzenegger press secretary Aaron McLear:

“Judge Pirozzi is qualified to serve in this position — he been serving as a judge pro tem over the past year, a position that he was selected for by his peers in the legal community. He has practiced law for nearly two decades in the Inland Empire, which has given him strong community ties and a vast knowledge of the pressing issues in San Bernardino.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.