By STEVE HART
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Cotati attorney Anthony Wheeldin will get a crash course in jurisprudence when he takes the bench as Sonoma County’s newest Superior Court commissioner.
He’ll preside over traffic court, the place where many county residents get their first taste of the legal system.
“Traffic court is perhaps the most important in the county,” said Gary Nadler, Superior Court’s presiding judge. “It’s the gateway between the public and our court system.”
Wheeldin, 61, was sworn in Thursday before a crowd of family, friends and colleagues. He is the county’s second black jurist, after retired Commissioner Jeanne Buckley.
Court commissioners are appointed by Superior Court judges to handle a variety of cases, including misdemeanors, criminal arraignments, infractions, traffic, probate, family law and juvenile court. They also can be assigned as temporary judges.
Wheeldin, who has practiced criminal, family and housing law over a 30-year career, also teaches civil procedure at Empire College and is active in 100 Black Men of Sonoma County.
On Thursday, he was praised as a thoughtful and caring lawyer. “I know you will exemplify a high standard of conduct,” Nadler said.
Wheeldin grew up in the throes of the U.S. civil rights struggle, said former law partner Mike Miller. His parents travelled to Mexico to be married in the 1940s because California banned interracial marriage.
His father, a journalist, was jailed during the McCarthy era for his Communist ties. He later left the Communist Party and worked for many years at the Los Angeles Daily Journal, California’s largest legal newspaper.
Wheeldin graduated from UCLA law school and was a staff attorney for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In Sonoma County, he earned a reputation for community service, Miller said. “Anthony is a fine choice,” he said.
On Thursday, Wheeldin said he has been inspired by family, colleagues and community leaders.
“I promise to serve the people of California,” he said. “I promise to defend justice.”