About the 4th District

California’s judicial system started in 1849 with its Supreme Court taking all appeals from the superior courts. By the turn of the century, the increase in population and court cases placed a burden on the Supreme Court. The intermediate appellate court provided the answer. Three districts were created in 1904, the First in San Francisco, the Second in Los Angeles, and the Third in Sacramento. Lawyers from all over Southern California went to Los Angeles to argue their cases.

In the latter 1920’s, the seeds were planted for the Fourth District. Lawyers had become tired of long trips to Los Angeles. Through the efforts of three state senators from San Diego, Fresno and San Bernardino, the Fourth District was born in 1929 just before the Great Depression. It was a circuit court, sitting in Fresno January through April, in San Diego May through August, and in San Bernardino September through December. The Fourth District was the only pure circuit-riding intermediate appellate court in California. It held its first session in San Bernardino in October 1929.

The new district originally included the counties of Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Kern, Inyo, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, San Diego, and Imperial. The territory of the Fourth District shrank in 1961. A new Fifth District sitting in Fresno siphoned off the Central Valley counties, leaving the six counties of Inyo, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, San Diego, and Imperial for the Fourth District. San Diego became its headquarters, and the court went every other month for two-day sessions in San Bernardino.

Division Two of the Fourth District was created by legislation passed in 1965. It sat in the City of San Bernardino. By oral agreement of the justices in the district, Division One in San Diego handled all court matters originating in Imperial and San Diego Counties. Division Two took filings from Inyo, San Bernardino, and Riverside Counties. Appeals from Orange County were divided between the divisions, and original proceedings were handled by Division Two.

In 1982, Division Three in Santa Ana was formed, and assumed jurisdiction of all cases from Orange County. Division Three is the only state appellate court whose jurisdiction is limited to a single county. Its original four justices began considering cases in January 1983.

The Fourth District and each of its three divisions have operated in many locations. The District has had six locations in San Diego. In May 1930, its very first session was held in Department 4 of the Superior Court Building. It then established itself that year at the historic Spreckels Building (then known as the Bank of Italy Building). During the 1930s and 1940s, the Court settled in at the Electric Building at 861 Sixth Avenue. From 1950 to 1963, the Court was located at 620 Ash Street. In 1963, it moved to the State Building, 1350 Front Street, and twenty-five years later when it ran out of space, it moved to its present quarters in Symphony Towers, 750 “B” Street.

In 1999, Division Two moved from San Bernardino to its present location in Riverside, California. The courthouse in Riverside is the first stand-alone building for an appellate court in California.

Division Three famously held its first case conferences in the Presiding Justice’s kitchen and heard argument in the Santa Ana City Council Chambers, while the clerk’s office operated in the superior courthouse. The court eventually occupied office space in the Santa Ana Civic Center while looking for a more permanent home. In 1988, Division Three found a long-term home in Santa Ana’s historic French Park District. In 2009, Division Three moved into the court’s permanent home in the Santa Ana Civic Center—a modern three-story courthouse designed and built entirely under the auspices of the Judicial Council. Division Three’s courthouse lobby hosts an original art collection, the result of a collaboration between the court, public schools, the probation department and community youth, devoted to chronicling some of the significant cases heard in the court.

Since the Fourth District’s creation, 35 justices have served the district in San Diego; 27 justices have served in Division Two; and 20 justices have served in Division Three. Sixteen justices have led the Fourth District as presiding justices. As of 2021, the Fourth District has 26 judgeships: ten allocated to Division One, eight to Division Two, and eight to Division Three.

The Fourth District has a rich history of diversity and inclusion. For example, upon his appointment to the Fourth District in 1966, Associate Justice Stephen K. Tamura became the first Asian-American justice appointed to an appellate court in the continental United States. On December 27, 1990, Presiding Justice Manuel A. Ramirez was appointed as the first Hispanic presiding justice in the Fourth District and the only Hispanic appellate presiding justice to ever serve in California. On March 11, 2003, Division One’s Acting Presiding Justice Patricia D. Benke with Associate Justices Judith L. Haller and Judith D. McConnell presided over the first all-female appellate justice panel in State history. In September 2003, Division One became the first appellate district in the state to be composed of an equal number of male and female justices. On January 14, 2021, Justice Truc T. Do of Division One became the first Vietnamese-American justice appointed in California. Before becoming the first Latina to serve on the California Supreme Court, Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero served as an Associate Justice in Division One of Fourth District. She was the Fourth District’s first Latina justice.

The Fourth District is proud of its history and role within California’s judicial system. Its goal is to continue its service to the public to the best of its ability, as a servant of the people.

Additional Resources:

A Visitor's Guide to the California Courts of Appeal