Sunil Kulkarni appointed state judge in California

September 6, 2013

Joins an impressive list of Indian Americans in the state’s justice system. 

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: Indian American Sunil R. Kulkarni has become the first South Asian ever to be appointed as a state judge in northern California. He was appointed to the position by California Governor Jerry Brown.

A native of Los Angeles, Kulkarni earned his Bachelor’s degree in Science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1993, and his law degree from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. A licensed and practicing lawyer since 1996, Kulkarni has specialized in various aspects of corporate law, such as commercial, intellectual property, and securities legislation. He has also done work with patent and labor laws.

In his career, he has worked as a clerk for former US District Court Judge Oliver Wanger from 1996-1997, and was a partner at Palo Alto-based law firm Morrison and Foerster LLP from 1998-2011. Currently, he works for the University of California higher education system, in addition to being a temporary Santa Clara County traffic court judge since late last year.

Unlike with federal judges, who must always nominated and then approved, state judges are generally elected, although in some cases — such as this — they can be appointed.

Kulkarni’s appointment comes on the heels of an unusually large number of Indian Americans being chosen for high-ranking legal positions throughout the country, particularly in California. The state’s attorney general is Kamala Harris, the half-Indian and half-Jamaican former District Attorney of San Francisco who assumed her current office in January 2011. She was elected in an excruciatingly close election in late 2010, in which she emerged victorious by a margin of less than 1%.

Other Indian-Americans holding lofty positions in the judicial branch in California include Central District Court Judge Jay Gandhi (since 2010), Northern California Magistrate Judge Paul Singh Grewal (since 2010), Central District Federal Magistrate Judge Alka Sagar (since 2013), Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rupa Goswami (since 2013), and District Court for Northern California nominee Vince Girdhari Chhabria, who Obama nominated in 2013 as well.

Earlier this year, President Obama nominated Sri Srinivasan to the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, considered by many to be arguably the second-highest judiciary position in the country and the highest ever held by an Indian-American. There is also Kentucky’s Eastern District Court Judge Amul Thapar, who has been in office since 2008.

Kulkarni is currently based in the Oakland area, where he lives with his wife, Sujata Patel. Patel is a Stanford University psychiatrist; together, the two have two daughters — seven year-old Asha and four year-old Leela.

Kulkarni will be sworn into his new post — which will pay him an annual salary of $178,000 — in October.

[This story was updated on 9/9/13.]

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