On August 1, 2022, President Biden nominated Judge Daniel Calabretta to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California to the seat vacated by Judge John Mendez. Judge Calabretta, who is currently a Superior Court judge, would be the first openly LGBTQ+ judge in the Eastern District of California.
Judge Calabretta was born in Union City, Tennessee in 1978 and grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Princeton University, summa cum laude, in 2000 and earned his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School where he graduated magna cum laude in 2003. While in law school, he was an Editor for the University of Chicago Law Review, a member of the Order of the Coif, and received the Ann Watson Barber Outstanding Service Award.
Judge Calabretta began his law career clerking for Hon. William A. Fletcher in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He then clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens in the United States Supreme Court. In 2005, he joined Munger, Tolles & Olsen LLP as a litigation associate. Over the course of three years with that firm, Judge Calabretta represented telecommunications companies and other law firms while gaining valuable litigation experience.
Judge Calabretta shifted away from private practice in 2008 when he became a Deputy Attorney General in the California Department of Justice’s Government Law Section. In that role, he primarily defended state law in constitutional challenges that were brought against the Attorney General. Additionally, he provided advice to the Attorney General and state agencies and vetted nominations to California’s appellate courts. In 2014, Judge Calabretta joined the Office of Governor Jerry Brown as Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary. He advised the governor’s office on ethics and financial reporting obligations under the California Fair Political Practices Act and worked closely with the Office of Emergency Services when there was a request to declare a state of emergency or a request for emergency relief.
The following cases are illustrative of Judge Calabretta’s litigation experience as Deputy Attorney General.
Judge Calabretta worked on cases that concerned violations of the state and federal constitutional law. In Alviso v. Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department, the plaintiffs claimed a California requirement to impound the vehicle of drivers with suspended licenses for 30 days violated the Equal Protection Clause because the requirement only applied to some Vehicle Code violations, but not all. The plaintiffs also claimed that the 30-day impound without a warrant or court order violated the unlawful seizure provisions of federal and state constitutions. Judge Calabretta represented the State against these Fourth Amendment, Equal Protection, and Due Process challenges. The trial court found that the statute was constitutional on all fronts, and the court of appeal affirmed. Judge Calabretta prepared the briefing and argued the case at both the trial court and court of appeal.
In another case, Plata v. Schwarzenegger, a constitutional challenge to the way California provided medical care to prisoners, the court appointed an unbiased overseer to monitor the medical care provided to inmates in custody at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Judge Calabretta represented the State Controller, who became involved in the case after the State refused to provide approximately $8 billion to build new medical facilities, as recommended by the court-appointed overseer. The district court ultimately ordered the state to only pay $250 million towards the construction of these facilities.
Judge Calabretta represented the State in a variety of cases that involved California ballot propositions, which are referendums in which Californians directly vote on a specific law. If passed, propositions can alter the state constitution or any of California’s codes or statutes, opening up the State to significant litigation. For example, in Perry v. Schwarzenegger and subsequent related cases, Judge Calabretta represented California’s Governor, Attorney General and other state officials who challenged California’s Proposition 8, a referendum that aimed to amend the California Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the supporters of Proposition 8 lacked standing to appeal a permanent injunction that prohibited officials from enforcing ban on same-sex marriage Judge Calabretta later defended the California Public Health Department’s guidance that required all counties to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Hollingsworth v. O’Connell, another case brought by supporters of Proposition 8. After the trial court judge held in the State’s favor, Judge Calabretta also succeeded in defeating a motion made by supporters of Proposition 8 to throw out the decision on the basis that the judge had a conflict of interest due to his sexual orientation.
In Haskell v. Harris, Judge Calabretta represented the State in a challenge to Proposition 69, which required the collection of a DNA sample from any individual arrested for a felony. The class action plaintiffs argued that the law was unconstitutional because it discriminated against individuals who had been arrested or charged with a felony. On behalf of the State, he opposed a request to temporarily stop enforcement of the law, which was denied by the district court. Judge Calabretta then defended the district court’s decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ultimately upheld the district court’s decision and the case was dismissed.
Before he left the Attorney General’s Office, Judge Calabretta also represented the State in Connerly v. State of California, a challenge to California’s Citizen Redistricting Commission under Proposition 209. The law requires that, after the first eight members of the Redistricting Commission are randomly selected by the State Auditor, the final six members are chosen in a manner that ensures the Commission reflects the state’s racial, ethnic, geographic, and gender diversity. The State attempted to dismiss the case on the grounds that the proposition impacts public employees rather than officers and although the trial court sustained the demurrer, the following appeal resulted in the case being remanded for further proceedings. The case is still ongoing.
State Administrative Law
As Deputy Attorney General, Judge Calabretta also represented California in challenges related to state administrative law. For example, in Natural Resources Defense Council v. Chiang, Judge Calabretta represented the State in a challenge to the California Legislature’s decision to transfer gas consumption taxes, initially intended to fund low-income assistance programs, to a General Fund to be used for other purposes. The petitioners argued, among other more technical complaints, that the transfer violated state law because the funds were not being utilized for purposes identified in the legislation that established the tax. The court held that the Legislature violated state law and that the challenged funds could not be transferred to the General Fund. In another case, Tomra Pacific Inc. v. Chiang, Judge Calabretta represented the State after the California Legislature loaned approximately $519 million from one part of the state budget to another to help balance the budget during a fiscal crisis. The loans were taken from the Recycling Fund and the plaintiffs argued that the transfer improperly interfered with purpose of that fund. The trial court held, and the court of appeal agreed, that the Legislature acted lawfully and that the loans did not interfere with the Recycling Fund’s stated purpose. Judge Calabretta litigated the matter before both the trial court and the court of appeal.
In 2019, Judge Calabretta was the first openly gay man appointed to the Superior Court for the County of Sacramento, a trial court of general jurisdiction and in 2020, he was elected to a full term. For the entirety of his judicial career, Judge Calabretta served on the Juvenile Court, which hears both juvenile dependency and juvenile justice cases. While Judge Calabretta has presided over nearly 200 trials, he does not have any published written opinions because decisions in juvenile cases are kept confidential. Until recently, he was assigned to juvenile dependency cases, which involve allegations of parental child abuse and neglect. Most of Judge Calabretta’s judicial work relates to removing children from unsafe conditions, family reunification, providing parents with the assistance needed to regain custody of their children, adoptions, and foster care placement.
In March of this year, Judge Calabretta was appointed as the Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court. He now supervises all judges in juvenile dependency and justice, sits on various committees, and hears cases relating to both dependency issues and juvenile justice.
Professional Activities and Accolades
Judge Calabretta is currently a member of the California Child Welfare Council, which is responsible for improving coordination between and oversight of various courts and agencies that assist children in the California welfare system. He also serves on the Sacramento County Mental Health Services Act Steering Committee and the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council Subcommittee. Additionally, he is a member of SacLegal, Sacramento’s LGBTQ+ bar association.