The Supreme Court today announced a change at the head of one of its three central staffs of attorneys. Norm Vance is retiring after 29 years as the criminal central staff director. His replacement will be Jessica Barber, who has been that central staff’s deputy director since 2019. The court’s news release says Barber will be the first Latina attorney to be a head of staff for the court.
Both Vance and Barber have spent most or all of their legal careers working for the courts.
Vance has been with the Supreme Court since 1987, starting as a chambers attorney for former Justice John Arguelles. Before that, he served as the Senior Civil Motions Attorney at the Ninth Circuit.
Barber was a research attorney for the San Francisco Superior Court before coming to the Supreme Court as an annual attorney in 2008 and joining the criminal central staff in 2010.
In the court’s announcement, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye praised Vance as having “been at the heart of our institution in many ways, including serving as a sounding board when we considered new court policies” and also as “a trusted mentor to many attorneys at the court.” Similarly, Barber said Vance “has been a wonderful mentor, leading by example with his incredible work ethic and tremendous knowledge.”
About Barber, the Chief Justice said, “All the justices and their staffs feel fortunate to have such a talented and capable leader in Jessica.” Vance concurred, saying, “I cannot think of a better person to replace me as director.”
The court’s announcement explains, “The Criminal Central Staff prepares conference memos addressing petitions for review and habeas corpus petitions in all criminal matters except capital cases. The justices rely on staff to help select the criminal matters in which they grant review for written opinions.”
I’ve met both Norm and Jessica, and both have offered valuable practice insights — Norm for the blog (e.g., here, here, and here) and Jessica during MCLE programs on petitions for review (e.g., here). The retirement and the promotion, and the praise for each, are well deserved.