Corrigan’s Debut: Death Becomes Her

Carol Corrigan authored her first opinion this week as a California Supreme Court justice. And what a weighty debut it was. She affirmed a death sentence. That’s an awfully big decision for someone who’s been on the high court for only about four months. Death cases are labor-intensive.

Oakland appellate specialist Jon Eisenberg called it “weird,” but said it was obvious the case had been assigned to Corrigan’s predecessor, Justice Janice Rogers Brown. Corrigan just inherited it.

“The process began long before she got on the court, and she stepped in at a later stage,” he said.

Santa Clara University School of Law professor Gerald Uelmen said Corrigan’s handling of a death case as her first opinion shows she’s as intelligent as everyone indicated when she was under consideration.

“I’m not sure how long before oral argument the assignment is made in terms of actually serving as author of the opinion,” he said, “but she’s a quick study.”

It’s also probably not surprising that Corrigan, a former prosecutor and a moderate conservative, would affirm a death sentence.

And based on the facts of the 81-page ruling, it would be hard to feel sympathy for the defendant, Erik Sanford Chapman. He murdered Rosellina Lo Bue, an employee of a San Jose drive-up photo shop, in 1987 by stabbing her 51 times in front of his own 2-year-old son. He only stopped when the frightened child said, “Daddy, I want to go home.”

Five of the high court’s regular justices, along with Linda Gemello, a justice on San Francisco’s First District Court of Appeal, concurred with Corrigan. Justice Ming Chin didn’t participate.

Maybe Corrigan will get some lighter fare next time.

— Mike McKee



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