A local immigration attorney and a public defender are joining the Fresno County Superior Court bench.
Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Virna Santos and Stephanie Negin as judges, his office announced Monday. Both women are Democrats.
This is Newsom’s eighth Fresno County Superior Court appointment in his first term.
Fresno County now has 44 of its 45 seats filled. The last remaining seat is up for election this June. Bob Whalen, a Clovis City Councilman and Fresno County deputy district attorney, is the only name on the ballot. If he wins, he will take his seat next January.
One other Fresno County judge, Ana de Alba, was nominated to a federal judgeship. A hearing to confirm her has not been scheduled by the U.S. Senate.
Santos Represented Councilmembers
Santos, 56, most recently operated a private practice, focusing on immigration law. She also worked as an attorney for the federal government in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Fresno and for the Embassy in Colombia.
“I am humbled by the trust the Governor has placed in me. I will be honored to serve the people of Fresno every day in this new facet of my public service career,” Santos told GV Wire by email.
Last year, Santos represented four Fresno City Councilmembers — Miguel Arias, Nelson Esparza, Tyler Maxwell, and Esmeralda Soria — when Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp investigated them for a possible violation of the state’s open meeting law. The councilmembers were cleared of wrongdoing.
The Harvard-educated Santos replaces the late Gary Hoff, who retired in January. She will be up for election for a full six-year term in 2024.
Negin Comes from County Public Defender’s Office
Negin, 40, has spent her entire 15-year legal career with the Fresno Public Defender’s office. She was born and raised in Fresno, attending Edison High School before college at Occidental and earning her law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.
“I was shocked and I’m so humbled and blessed to be given this opportunity and to serve in Fresno County in this way,” Negin said. “I’m ready for the challenge.”
Her parents and grandparents nurtured in her the value of public service. She works with the local B’nai B’rith organization — a group that helps fund college scholarships for student athletes, founded in part by her grandfather — and serves on the board of the Poverello House.
“The idea of giving back is something that they really instilled upon me at a very young age,” Negin said.
Negin replaces Debra Kazanjian, who retired last year. She will be up for election for a full six-year term in 2024.
“I was able to get to know her through the community service work. She is an incredible woman and I’m honored to take her seat,” Negin said.
Negin’s Boss Ecstatic
“There couldn’t be a better person to be on the bench. She’s fair, she’s compassionate. She’s a hard worker.” — Fresno County Public Defender Antoinette Taillac
Antoinette Taillac, the Fresno County public defender, supports Negin’s appointment.
“There couldn’t be a better person to be on the bench. She’s fair, she’s compassionate. She’s a hard worker. She’s a great role model for all the younger attorneys in my office. She has an impeccable work ethic and she’s got a great reputation with the judges,” Taillac said.
Taillac says it has been at least 30 years since an attorney was appointed directly to a judgeship from the Fresno County Public Defender’s office. She said public defender attorneys do not usually apply to become judges because appointments are usually from the district attorney’s side.
“I think this is a very positive step forward because I think we need diversity on the bench,” Taillac said. “We have a lot to offer the bench, and I think we have a group of very dedicated, hard-working attorneys who are really bright.”
Two other Newsom recent picks, Charles Lee and Irena Luna, both worked as public defenders, but for different agencies other than Fresno County.