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Gov appoints lesbian judge in Contra Costa

by Matthew S. Bajko .
Saturday Mar 6, 2010

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has appointed out lesbian Rebecca C. Hardie to a judgeship on the Contra Costa County Superior Court. The Moraga resident is the governor's second out nominee to a judicial post.

"Obviously, I am very excited and very happy," Hardie told the Bay Area Reporter in a brief phone interview Tuesday afternoon. "I believe in the judicial process and the criminal justice system, so I think it is an incredibly high honor to serve as a judge."

She doesn't expect her sexual orientation to be much of an issue in the somewhat conservative East Bay county, which stretches from Richmond to Concord and Walnut Creek south to San Ramon and covers the delta towns along Highway 4.

"I have a little more faith in the public. My background and qualifications speak for themselves," said Hardie, Pacific Gas and Electric Company's director and counsel since 2007.

While the governor is believed to have picked several LGBT applicants for vacant court seats since being elected in 2003, his first known openly gay appointee came last June when he promoted local court commissioner Ron Albers to a judicial seat on the San Francisco Superior Court.

Unlike Albers, who is well known among the Bay Area's LGBT legal circles and political groups, Hardie, 48, has flown under the radar since becoming part of the utility company's legal team in 2004. Half a dozen gay and lesbian attorneys, as well as leaders of Equality California, the statewide LGBT lobbyist group, told the Bay Area Reporter they were not personally acquainted with Hardie.

Hardie's partner, Sharon Bunzel, has a higher profile among the LGBT legal community. The attorney with O'Melveny and Myers is listed as an LGBT legal community contact on the Web site of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

The couple also donated $1,000 toward the Lawyers' Leadership Council for Equality, a coalition of LGBT and gay supportive legal groups that banded together to fight Proposition 8, the ban against same-sex marriage California voters approved in 2008.

They married in a private ceremony October 6, 2008 a little less than a month prior to passage of Prop 8. The couple is raising 7-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.

The governor announced Hardie's appointment Thursday, February 18. It comes as three gay men and one lesbian, tired by the slow pace of LGBT judicial nominees, seek seats on the San Francisco Superior Court on the June primary.

Robert Retana and Linda Colfax are in the race for an open seat while Michael Nava is running against a sitting judge. All three had applied through the governor's office to be chosen for vacancies on the local courts and decided to seek election after their applications went nowhere. A fourth gay attorney, Dan Dean, who is running against Nava and Judge Richard Ulmer, never bothered to apply through Schwarzenegger's office due to the lack of out court nominees.

Dean, a co-chair of the LGBT-focused Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, said he did not personally know the couple but called Hardie's appointment "great news."

Hardie submitted her application to the governor's office back in November 2007. Her appointment came as somewhat of a surprise, she said.

"I really, quite frankly, wasn't thinking that much about it. The process can take a long time or be very quick. There is not a lot of rhyme or reason to it," said Hardie, who grew up in Michigan.

Hardie earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Western Michigan University and received her law degree from the University of California, Hastings School of Law. In 1992 she went to work for a year as a deputy district attorney for the Marin County District Attorney's Office.

Since then she has been an attorney for a private firm, a U.S. probation officer, and an assistant U.S. attorney for the justice department.

A Democrat, Hardie fills the vacancy created by the elevation of Judge Terence L. Bruiniers to the First District Court of Appeal. She expects to be sworn in sometime in mid to late March and will earn $178,789.

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