Longtime Fresno Judge Retires. Here’s Who Newsom Appointed as Replacement
After serving 20 years on the Fresno County Superior Court bench, Hilary Chittick plans to take it slow in retirement, at least at the beginning.
“A friend advised me to wait six months after retiring to make any big plans, and I’m actually going to follow that advice. I’ll do something, but am not sure what,” Chittick told Politics 101 by email.
Chittick has accomplished plenty in her time on the bench, and 42 years in the legal profession, which is “long enough,” she says. Her most recent endeavor was establishing a DUI Court, to help turn around the lives of people with dependency problems.
Related Story: Fresno County’s New DUI Court Helps Offenders and the Community
She did not cite a memorable case, instead choosing to reflect on people.
“I have really enjoyed working with my colleagues on the bench, attorneys, Probation Officers, clinicians and participants in all of my collaborative courts. I think seeing how lives change when we all row in the same direction, so to speak, has been incredibly rewarding, and humbling,” Chittick said.
Also in Politics 101 …
- Governor appoints two new judges for Fresno County.
- Fresno councilwoman files motion to end defamation suit.
- Congressmembers want answers.
- First three Fresno Women’s commissioners named.
Newsom Appoints Two to Fresno County Bench
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced two appointments to the bench — Pahoua Lor to replace Chittick, and Geoffrey Wilson to replace Ana de Alba, who was named to the federal U.S. Eastern District of California court.
Both are “boomerangs” — raised in Fresno, went to college out of town, and then coming back for work.
Lor, 42, moved to Fresno from Wisconsin at an early age to be near hear Hmong immigrant grandparents.
A family tragedy early in her life shaped her love of the law. An uncle was shot and killed. She recalled seeing the pain on the faces of her parents and grandparents.
“(It) was actually feeling everything that they had gone through and the experience and trauma of leaving their home and coming to this country and trying to make it. And that’s what really motivated me to go to the law. That’s what interested me in just seeing how the judicial system played out and different things that affected people on a social economic level and how it impacted just life in general,” Lor said.
It is believed she will be the first Hmong-American female judge in the state. “Hopefully not the last,” Lor said.
“Going on the bench would mean so much to individuals in terms of the fact that there would be diversity and a first Asian female judge in Fresno and then also being a Hmong judge. I thought was very impactful and other people would benefit from that in terms of having representation and perhaps a role model,” Lor said.
Lor graduated from Clovis West High School, and UC Davis. She has been in private practice since 2013. She also practiced immigration law at The Fresno Center, and Central California Legal Services. A graduate of the San Joaquin College of Law, Lor is a Democrat.
Wilson, 44 and registered with no party preference, is a boomerang — growing up in Fresno (he attended Bullard High School), before going to college in southern California. He graduated from UC San Diego and Loyola Law School, and started at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles in 2007.
He returned to Fresno in 2018, continuing his service as a federal attorney.
“It was a tremendous honor to get the call from the governor. And it is something that I really look forward to and certainly humbled by the nomination and hope to become a great judge,” Wilson said.
He found inspiration in the law from his mother, former Fresno County deputy district attorney Tammy Sonder.
“Helping people make important decisions is something that I’ve always felt was a strength of mine. And I hope to do that in a more formal way on the bench,” Wilson said.
Judges are paid a salary of $229,125. Both Lor and Wilson will be up for re-election in 2024 for a full six-year term.
Newsom has now made 10 appointments to the Fresno County Superior Court since taking office in 2019.
Soria Files Anti-SLAPP Motion
Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, who is running for state Assembly, filed a motion to dismiss a defamation lawsuit against her. Known as “anti-SLAPP,” if granted, the lawsuit — filed by city council colleague and former Assembly candidate Mike Karbassi — would go away and Karbassi would owe legal fees.
Karbassi said a mailer sent by Soria during the June election campaign mislead voters about his use of public funds and intimated he violently abused women. The latter allegation was made on one side of the flyer, but actually referred to a consultant Karbassi hired. That fact was revealed on the reverse side.
The facts may come down to this — can misleading information on one side of a mailer be read in isolation, or must it be taken as a whole with both sides?
Soria Compares Rhetoric to Thomas Jefferson
The basis of an anti-SLAPP motion is that the lawsuit violates Soria’s first amendment rights. Her attorneys argue that the mailer was standard political tit-for-tat — Karbassi started it, they say — and technically true. In court papers, Soria’s team compared the mailers at issue to rhetoric in the Jefferson-Adams presidential race of 1800.
Another observation in the entire court proceedings— the differing recollections of Soria and a process server in sworn statements to the court. Initially, Soria said she was never personally served the lawsuit — a necessity to move the litigation forward. The process server said the two did have an in-person interaction. Soria did not mention any such encounter.
The issue of proper service became moot when both sides agreed in court last week to move the lawsuit forward.
The anti-SLAAP motion will be heard Sept. 1 in front of Fresno County Superior court Judge Kimberly Gaab.
Related Story: $4.5 Million Lawsuit Against Fresno Councilmember Will Continue, Judge Rules
Congressmembers Want Answers
The California Congressional Republican delegation want answers on water, in a letter sent to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
“The California Republican delegation has received no substantive response to multiple requests asking the Department of the Interior to explain why it began reconsultation, a process expected to cost more than $15 million of taxpayer money,” a news release from David Valadao, R-Hanford, said.
The letter expresses concern of “undue political influence on the Department in an attempt to cancel the Biological Opinions.”
Valley congressmembers Connie Conway, R-Tulare, and Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, joined Valadao.
“The entire process seems geared toward reaching a predetermined outcome, which is to sabotage policies that would direct more water to San Joaquin Valley communities that are suffering from a years-long water crisis,” Conway said in the news release.
First Three Women’s Commissioners Named
Three women have been nominated to the new City of Fresno Women’s Commission. They will be formally voted on at Thursday’s city council meeting.
Councilman Mike Karbassi named Kacey Auston-Tibbetts; Miguel Arias named Guadalupe Cazarez; and Nelson Esparza named Aida Macedo.
Auston-Tibbetts also serves on the county women’s commission and is a longtime business consultant and entrepreneur.
Cazarez is paralegal with Central California Legal Services. Macedo is an attorney, and Esparza’s former chief of staff.
Each of the seven councilmembers will nominate a woman to the commission, which will advise the city on issues pertaining to women and girls in Fresno.