Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday chose state Supreme Court Associate Justice Patricia Guerrero to be the next chief justice of the state’s highest court, marking another milestone in the rise of the Coronado resident and Imperial County native through the state legal system.
Guerrero, 50, was just sworn in to a spot on the Supreme Court in May. She became the first Latina to occupy a seat on the seven-member court and will now be the first to lead both the court and act as the chief administrator of the state’s sprawling court system.
She replaces Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who announced on July 27 she will not seek a second 12-year term in November and will retire at the end of the year. She has served as the chief since 2011.
In a statement, Guerrero said she was humbled by the nomination and referenced Cantil-Sakauye’s tenure.
“If confirmed, I look forward to continuing the strides the Court has made under Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye to expand equal access to justice and create a fairer justice system for all Californians,” she said.
Guerrero served as an associate justice on the Fourth District Court of Appeal in San Diego from 2017 to 2022. Before that she was a judge on the San Diego Superior Court from 2013 to 2017.
She spent most of her career as a lawyer with the high-powered law firm Latham & Watkins, where she worked from 1997 to 2001 and again from 2003 until her appointment to the Superior Court. She worked one year, from 2002 to 2003, at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego.
Guerrero grew up in the Imperial Valley, where her father worked as a farm worker in the fields. She graduated from Imperial High School, got her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and then a law degree from Stanford University in 1997.
As chief justice she will not only steer the state’s high court, often seen as one of the most important state courts in the nation, but also oversee the state’s $5 billion court system with 105 appeals court justices, 1,755 Superior Court judges and 4.4 million filings annually.
The nomination will first have to go to the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation of the State Bar, and then to a confirmation hearing on the Commission on Judicial Appointments. Guerrero is a registered Democrat.
Newsom also nominated Alameda Superior Court Judge Kelli Evans as an associate justice to replace Guerrero on the bench.