Governor Jerry Brown has appointed Sunil R. Kulkarni, who since 2011 has served as a senior counsel in the litigation group at the University of California, to Santa Clara County Superior Court.
A resident of Palo Alto, Calif., Kulkarni, 41, becomes the first South Asian American state judge appointed in Northern California, according to the South Asian Bar Association of Northern California.
(Indian American Paul Singh Grewal in 2010 was appointed a magistrate judge in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Magistrate judges are federal judges.)
Kulkarni told India-West Aug. 30 that he was “thrilled to get the call” from the governor’s office about the appointment, and has practiced “a wide variety of litigation” in the office of General Counsel at the University of California, including civil litigation, administrative hearings, copyright law, patents and labor issues.
Born in Los Angeles, Kulkarni, 41, grew up in King City, Calif., in southern Monterey County.
He has a B.S. from U.C.-Berkeley and a law degree from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law.
The Indian American attorney was a law clerk for Judge Oliver W. Wagner in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California from 1996-97 and held various positions at Morrison and Foerster LLP from 1998-2011, including partner and associate.
“We’re extremely proud that (Gov. Brown) has chosen to appoint the first South Asian state court judge in Northern California, and that this historic appointment has been given to someone who is a pillar in our community,” said Akshay Verma, co-president, SABA-NC.
“It is inspirational to see someone as deserving as…Kulkarni appointed to the bench. His appointment reflects an evolving judiciary that reflects the communities that it serves. SABA-NC hopes that more deserving South Asian attorneys will follow in…Kulkarni’s footsteps and aspire to become a member of the bench.”
He fills a vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Marcel B. Poche. A Democrat, Kulkarni will receive a salary of $178,000 per year.
A member of SABA-NC, Kulkarni served as endorsements co-chair and vice president of that organization. He was on the board and treasurer of Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto from 2009-2013, served as volunteer mediator for the Northern District of California since 2011, and was a temporary judge for Santa Clara County traffic court since November 2012.
Married, he and his wife, Sujata Patel, a psychiatrist at Stanford University, have two girls, Asha, 7, and Leela, 4.
There has been a flurry of recent appointments and nominations of South Asians to the judiciary in California and the U.S.
They include Rupa S. Goswami, who was appointed by Gov. Brown to Los Angeles County Superior Court in July (I-W, July 19); Alka Sagar, who was named a federal magistrate judge for the Central District of California (I-W, Aug. 30); and Vince Girdhari Chhabria, who was nominated by President Barack Obama to the U.S. District Court for Northern California (I-W, Aug. 3).
These developments come on the heels of Skikanth “Sri” Srinivasan’s historic appointment and confirmation by the U.S. Senate in May to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (I-W, May 31), considered the second most powerful court in the nation.
Asked about the fact that more South Asian Americans are advancing in the legal and judicial fields, Kulkarni told India-West that he believes it is because “South Asians in my generation” are “more open about law as a career.” Many in earlier cohorts, he pointed out, came to the U.S. as engineers, medical doctors or business professionals.
The younger generation is far more likely to view law as “a new paradigm” for a career, Kulkarni added.