Dialogues – State Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan


At 57, her resume reads like a book of Who’s Who. But State Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan is as down to earth as anyone, with a sharp wit and a passion for golf and Notre Dame football. The Rockridge resident weighs in on some less than lofty matters as she shares her insight on food, politics and surviving Catholic school.

Q: It’s early in the morning and you’re so – animated. Have you been up for hours?
A: I try to get up around six and do 45 minutes or an hour on the treadmill. I’m not one of those people who leaps up to greet the day, but if I can roll out and put on my tennis shoes and get on the treadmill, I can do that.

Q: I’m trying to picture your house in Oakland. I imagine a cavernous library with dark wood walls full of legal books and one of those rolling ladders on wheels.
A: That would be dangerous. I actually had one of those when I was on the Court of Appeals because you need a lot of books to do that job. But I don’t have one at home. I do have a pretty good book collection, though. My mother was a librarian and my father was in the newspaper business so the written word in our house was sacred.

Q: So let me guess. You’re in at least one book club, right?
A: I’ve been asked, but it seems too much like a homework assignment. You’re like – read that book – and then I’m real tempted to get the cliff notes and then I feel guilty. At the moment, though, I’m reading So Many Books, So Little Time – which is wonderful. Then I’m reading The History of the Middle Ages. I’m a real history buff.

Q: You went to Holy Names College in the early seventies when it was an all girl’s catholic school. Was that a pretty wild place?
A: I wouldn’t say Holy Names was a wild school but we were wild by Holy Names’ standards. It was the anti-war period and it was a very exciting time to be on a college campus. The poor nuns, when we got there all the rules were very much in place and we were told, “don’t forget when you come, you need to bring a pair of white gloves for the teas we will be having” and we had to dress for dinner four nights a week. By the time we left, they were thrilled if we just came to dinner clothed.

Q: Your dad was with the Stockton Record. Did he ever try to talk you into going into the newspaper business?
A: I was the first in my family to go to college. I think my parents were just thrilled that I was aimed at gainful employment. My father actually said “be a teacher, it’s a great job for a woman, it’s got good retirement and you’re done early in the day.”

Q: Your politics seem to be an evolution of sorts. You started out as a democrat and then switched to the Republican Party in the early 1990s. Now you call yourself a centrist. Did you have a life-changing moment?
A: I was a middle of the road democrat and now I think I’m a middle of the road republican. I don’t think that I switched so much as the parties around me switched. But I don’t think my party affiliation is the defining characteristic in my own self image.

Q: Were you really surprised when you got the appointment to the California Supreme Court?
A: Oh, yeah. I think if you’re not really surprised then your ego is too big. And there’s a lot of stuff that happens before you get the call. It’s a very long process and you have to complete this enormous questionnaire which goes on forever and then there are interviews and they’re looking at a significant number of people and trying to figure out what their best judgement is.

Q: I would have been worried that they’d dig up some dirt on me. But you – I can’t find anything controversial about you at all – not even a bad blog.
A: Far be it from me to dissuade you from that notion. You know how it is when you’ve been raised by educators who’re prone to beat you when you’re bad. But really, I have been tremendously blessed in my life with a wonderful, wonderful family – and to be educated by people who made a choice to devote their entire life to teaching. Their whole focus was on nurturing these little lives, so that gives you a solid foundation to build on.

Q: You’ve been described as someone with a sharp wit – even glib. Has it gotten you into trouble?
A: I really always try to keep a lid on my sense of humor because it strikes me that humor is wonderfully important but especially in a fairly serious enterprise it’s like fire in a house – it’s useful to a certain level but then can be very troubling.

Q: So who do you identify with more – the lawyers on Boston Legal or those old chestnuts like Matlock or Perry Mason?
A: That’s a great question. I love Boston Legal. The writing – I really like TV shows with snappy dialogue and each of those characters is so wonderfully drawn. When I was thinking about going to law school I was pretty sure I wanted to be a trial lawyer, and no-one ever gives me credit for this, but I’m kind of shy by nature. (Every time I say this people kind of guffaw) But trying a case – it’s a very creative process and a fascinating one and I was drawn to that – so Perry Mason was interesting to me too.

Q: But would you date Denny Crane?
A: Gees, I hope not. Denny’s very pithy. But I love the scene at the end where he and the other guy are sitting out on the veranda smoking their cigars and recounting their day.


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