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Book Review: The Case of Rose Bird

Rose BirdThe Case of Rose Bird: Gender, Politics, and the California Courts
By Kathleen A. Cairns
Reviewed by Richard Schulke, Reference Librarian

The Case of Rose Bird: Gender, Politics, and the California Courts is a timely look at political activism aimed at members of the Judiciary. It recounts the circumstances that led to the removal of Rose Bird as Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court.

This book begins by looking at Rose Bird’s early triumphs during high school and law school, followed by her milestone achievements as the first female law clerk for the Nevada Supreme Court, the first female deputy public defender in Santa Clara County, and the first woman to hold a cabinet position in California.

The book follows Bird’s appointment to the position of Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court in 1977 by a then forty-year-old Governor Jerry Brown—she was both the Court’s first female justice and its first female Chief Justice—and then a series of three attempts to recall her. The attempts ultimately succeeded, and in November of 1986 she was the first Chief Justice of California to be recalled by the voters.

The author examines the then-current politics that made Bird a lightning rod—her liberalism, gender, and the perception that she was soft on crime. The author also takes an in-depth look at Bird’s political opponents and the take-no-prisoner attitude that ultimately resulted in her downfall through political machinations. It is as chilling now as it was then.

The description of Bird’s final years as a broken person battling unsuccessfully against medical issues and early death is a sad ending to her story.

Current events make clear that the issue of “Judicial Politics” is still a hot potato. We recently witnessed both the removal of Judge Aaron Persky following his controversial decision to impose a sentence of only six months for a Stanford student convicted of rape, and the political maneuvering during the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. This fascinating exploration of Rose Bird and the turbulent beginning of judicial politics in California is still just as relevant today.

The Case of Rose Bird was generously donated to the Library by John Kelly.

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November Book Drive

Book Drive

Each month we will seek donors to purchase a new title for the Law Library. Here is our Wish List for the month of November, featuring books on workplace sexual harassment, the hardest decisions judges have made, and the criminal justice system. Growing our collection is about so much more than a single book—it is a living demonstration of how the Library expands the public’s access to justice and provides legal practitioners with the tools they need to represent members of our local community. Please see our Donation Guide for more ways to support the Law Library.

Sexual Harassment A Guide to a Harassment-Free Workplace

Sexual Harassment: A Guide to a Harassment-Free Workplace
Written by Kathleen Kapusta
$39.95, Paperback, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-54380-528-4

Tough Cases

Tough Cases: Judges Tell the Stories of Some of the Hardest Decisions They’ve Ever Made
Edited by Russell F. Canan, Gregory E. Mize, and Frederick H. Weisberg
$26.99, Hardcover, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-62097-386-8

Youre Under Arrest

You’re Under Arrest!
Understanding the Criminal Justice System

by Margaret C. Jasper
$29.99, Hardcover, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-9841404-0-4

To donate, please contact sflawlibrary@sfgov.org or call (415) 554-1791.  We appreciate your contribution!


Recent Book Drive Donations

Thank you to John Kelly for generously donating The Case of Rose Bird: Gender, Politics, and the California Courts.

Thank you to Suzanne P. Marria for generously donating To End a Presidency.

Thank you to Shannon K. Mauer for generously donating the ABA’s Women in Law Book Bundle, which includes The Road to Independence: 101 Women’s Journeys to Starting Their Own Law FirmsGrit, the Secret to Advancement: Stories of Successful Women LawyersZero Tolerance: Best Practices for Combating Sex-Based Harassment in the Legal Profession; and Learning to Lead: What Really Works for Women in Law.

Please take a look at our Book Drive page to see Wish List items from prior months. We are still wishing for these books!

Thank you for your support!


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August Book of the Month: Litigation in Practice

Litigation in PracticeLitigation in Practice
by Curtis E. A. Karnow
Reviewed by Michael Stoler, Reference Assistant


The Honorable Curtis E.A. Karnow has been a judge on the San Francisco Superior Court since 2005, after 28 years as an assistant U.S. attorney, a clerk, and a lawyer in private practice. He has authored the Rutter Group Guide Civil Procedure Before Trial, for which all California litigators owe him a debt of gratitude, and has spoken here at the San Francisco Law Library. Litigation in Practice, published in 2017, is a compilation of articles he had previously published in law journals, with some additional material. He starts with the premise that “while judges remember what it is to practice law, most lawyers have little idea of what it is to be a judge.” So he wants to “bridge that gap,” and give guidance to attorneys from his judicial perspective.

The book is a mix of the practical and the theoretical. Having asserted in his introduction that “law is what happens in the courtroom,” he devotes his first chapter to rules for conduct before the bench. Be polite. Be prepared. Don’t waste the judge’s time or otherwise show disrespect. He discusses how to submit and argue motions, select and treat jurors, and present evidence.

blur close up focus gavel

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The next chapter, on the use of statistics and probability, is fascinating and requires careful reading. Karnow cites examples of claims made in courts about the chances of some event occurring, and then dissects them to show why they don’t hold up mathematically. The next few chapters discuss legal epistemology, based on philosophy and logic: the one on settlement conferences refers to game theory, and one on legal analysis uses theories of categories to argue that really, any case has something in common with every other. The last chapter discusses legal education, how in this country it went from teaching practical skills to emphasizing academic, theoretical ones.

Karnow is a keen observer of the legal system. Attorneys will benefit from reading through this book. And litigators in general might find it will change their thinking about their profession and its processes, and hence, how they practice them.


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June Book of the Month: Benched

BenchedBenched: Abortion, Terrorists, Drones, Crooks, Supreme Court, Kennedy, Nixon, Demi Moore & Other Tales from the Life of a Federal Judge
by Jon O. Newman
Reviewed by Aaron Parsons, Reference Librarian


In Benched, Justice Jon O. Newman writes candidly about his remarkable career as an attorney, federal trial court judge, and Justice on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

With a glowing forward by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, Justice Newman gives an inside account of how judges think and what they do.

Early in his legal career, Newman clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. He was a high-level staffer in President Kennedy’s administration for what is now the Department of Health and Human Services, where his many assignments included studying health effects related to fallout from Russian nuclear tests. He describes challenges faced as a Senate staffer, and the difficulty of working with different sides in Congress to agree on even non-substantive changes in legislation.

Appointed as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, he humbly describes learning on the job while trying civil and criminal cases on issues such as heroin smuggling, enforcing draft evasion statutes during the Vietnam War, civil rights prosecutions, and being whacked with an umbrella by a woman after a takings case.

Justice Newman provides insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of the legal and political system, describing what it’s like to go through the Senate nomination process three times, how judges distribute caseloads, and their negotiation and decision-making processes—such as the preference of some judges to debate with their colleagues through memoranda and not through verbal exchanges. He relates an argument with the late Justice Scalia over statutory interpretation.

His judicial decisions included military drone strikes, a free speech case over school books (among them was Slaughterhouse Five, which prompted a complimentary letter from author Kurt Vonnegut), a law requiring royalties from the book Wiseguy and its movie adaptation, Goodfellas, be distributed to victims, and a case that required interpretation of the Articles of Confederation.

Justice Newman discusses his reactions to the handful of times that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his Second Circuit opinions, and another when that Court reversed and essentially sided with his dissent. He offers ideas on how to improve the American justice system, including burdens of proof, supervised depositions, and increased use of independent counsel.

Read Justice Newman’s autobiography, and biographies of more judges and attorneys, at the Law Library.