SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal appeals court on Monday rejected a former Contra Costa County court commissioner's lawsuit alleging she lost her job in retaliation for running against a sitting superior court judge.
In a unanimous three-judge decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that Denise Schmidt could not pursue her long-running legal claims against Contra Costa County Superior Court officials and judges, saying they have legal immunity for their decision to remove her from her post as a temporary court commissioner. The ruling upheld an earlier decision by a San Francisco federal judge who likewise dismissed the 2005 lawsuit.
Citing the fact Schmidt lost her job after trying to unseat an incumbent judge in 2004, the 9th Circuit did call the court's decision "certainly suspicious," but determined the lawsuit could not proceed.
Superior Court officials in 2004 removed Schmidt as a temporary commissioner, a role that involves routine judicial matters, after changing rules requiring them to be on active State Bar status. Schmidt was not an active member of the California Bar at the time, prompting court officials to notify her she could no longer serve as a temporary commissioner.
Schmidt then sued on a number of grounds, including alleging her free speech rights were violated, saying she was unfairly targeted because of her unsuccessful run against Judge John Sugiyama.
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at