gay_cityhall_gavel.jpgCalifornia Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George announced in San Francisco today that he will retire in January.

George, 70, has been a member of the state high court since 1991 and the chief justice since 1996.

As chief justice, he has also chaired the state Judicial Council, the governing body of the California state court system, which is one of the largest court systems in the world.

Both the court and the council are headquartered in San Francisco.

George said in a statement that reflection after his 70th birthday in March caused him to decide to step down now “while I am at the top of my game” and spend more time focusing on family, reading and travel.

“Seventy years…is young enough to enable me to pursue the richness of a life outside the law that I relish having before me,” he said.

George said he will not seek re-election to a new 12-year term in the November election. Under the state Constitution, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can nominate a successor by Sept. 16.

George has been a judge at all levels of the state court system for 38 years and was appointed by four governors from both parties.

He was named to Los Angeles Municipal Court by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1972, to Los Angeles Superior Court by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1977, and to the state Court of Appeal by Gov. George Deukmejian in 1987. Gov. Pete Wilson appointed him to the state Supreme Court in 1991.

George was the author of a ruling in which the state high court ruled by a 4-3 vote in May 2008 that the California Constitution provides a right to same-sex marriage.

A year later, he was the author of a 6-1 decision that upheld Proposition 8, a voter-approved state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage.

A federal constitutional challenge to Proposition 8 is now pending in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

As chair of the Judicial Council, George led initiatives that improved state court administration, jury service procedures, foster care and access to the courts for people acting as their own lawyers.

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