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By Courtesy Rebecca Wiseman
By STAFF AND WIRE REPORT
Rebecca Wiseman, whose long legal career has included stints as a Kern County prosecutor and judge, is retiring from the 5th District Court of Appeal at the end of the month, opening up a seat on the 10-member court that will be filled by Gov. Jerry Brown.
"It's been 28 years (on the bench) and I have turned 60," she told The Californian. "It seems like a good time."
Wiseman's retirement is the second from the 5th District appellate court, which is based in Fresno, in as many years. In May 2012, Betty Dawson retired after almost nine years as a justice. Brown replaced her with Rosendo Pena Jr.
Wiseman is a judicial veteran, having served more than a quarter century as a judge at various levels.
She started in 1986 as Kern County Municipal Court judge. In 1991, she became a Kern County Superior Court judge, and in 1996, then-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed her to the 5th District Court of Appeal.
Before ascending to the bench, Wiseman worked two years in private practice and five years as a Kern County deputy district attorney.
She earned her undergraduate degree from Fresno State and her law degree from the University of California at Davis.
"I'm keeping my options open," Wiseman said of her future. She intends to continue writing for a legal publication focusing on employment litigation and doing mediation.
Wiseman lives near Walnut Creek; she does not plan to return to the valley because a family member has asthma.
"That's the only reason I left in the first place," she said, stressing her affections for Kern County.
Wiseman said she'll miss her colleagues and the lawyers who argued before her, and the chance to do so much problem-solving from the bench.
She most enjoyed presiding over civil cases, Wiseman said, and handled a lot of employment and California Environmental Quality Act matters.
"They were really meaty," she said of litigation over CEQA, which requires state and local agencies to analyze the environmental impacts of projects and minimize some of those impacts. "You could really get your teeth into them."
In maybe her most high-profile local decisions of late, Wiseman has ruled against Kern County in its fight for the right to restrict the spreading of imported treated sewage sludge on farmland. She's argued that Kern's voter-approved Measure E is preempted by a state law and conflicts with a constitutional principle known as the regional welfare doctrine.
Wiseman said she can't talk about the sludge case because it's ongoing but in general, she's always tried to be sensitive to the issues confronting Kern.
"I have made many decisions that I personally disagreed with but that I had to make based on what the law said," Wiseman also offered.
Kern County Superior Court Judge Gary T. Friedman goes way back with Wiseman, from her time as a lawyer and prosecutor. She backed his judicial appointment; he swore her in as a muni court judge.
"She's a very knowledgeable, thorough, totally judicious person in every sense of the word," Friedman said. "Her reasoning, the ways she handles people -- it's everything you want to see in a judge and more."
That includes doing a lot of judicial education and attending judge appreciation events, he said.
Wiseman's replacement won't come immediately, said Brad Hill, the 5th District Court's presiding justice.
Hopefuls will submit their names to Brown, which selects applications to send to the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation for its opinion.
The favored nominee must then be confirmed by the three-member Commission on Judicial Appointments. That panel includes state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala Harris, and the presiding justice of the Court of Appeal district where the vacancy is being filled. In this case, that is Hill.
-- Christine Bedell of The Californian and John Ellis of the Fresno Bee contributed to this story.