Friday, February 25, 2005
Collins Names Self to Chair New Blue Ribbon Commission
Bar President Says Panel Needs to Find Ways to Hold Judges Accountable
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles County Bar President John J. Collins yesterday named a Blue Ribbon Commission on Improving the Superior Court, with himself as chairman.
The panel will pick up where the 2000 Blue Ribbon Commission left off, Collins told the MetNews. Its primary goals will be to find ways of dealing with “problem jurists”—those who abuse their authority and treat lawyers, litigants, and other participants rudely and unprofessionally—and establishing some means of monitoring how well the court delivers services, Collins said.
The work of the previous panel resulted in three significant actions by the court—elimination of “local local rules,” establishment of a random drawing as the method for replacement of judges disqualified under Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 170.6, and the creation of a separate panel of judges for complex civil cases—the county bar presidint said.
A major goal of the panel that was not fulfilled, however, was the establishment of a survey that was to be given to attorneys, litigants, witnesses, and jurors to gauge their reactions to how they were treated by the court, Collins explained.
The idea, he said, “died” when former Presiding Judge Gary Klausner, with whom the commission had been working during and after his tenure in the court’s top spot, became a federal judge. The survey is even more important, he said, now that the court has unified and expanded to more than 500 judicial officers.
The new commission will differ from the previous one in its makeup, Collins explained, in that the members will be attorneys in various disciplines. The previous panel, he said, was primarily made up of judges, court administrators, and past presidents of the bar.
“This time we were looking for established trial people,” he commented.
Edith Matthai of Robie & Matthai, the LACBA president-elect, will serve as vice chair of the commission. Other members include Don Mike Anthony of Hahn & Hahn LLP, a family law specialist who also litigates in other areas; Raymond P. Boucher of Kiesel Boucher & Larson, who does complex civil litigation; Richard J. Burdge Jr.of Howrey Simon Arnold & White, a commercial litigator; John F. Denove of Cheong Denove Rowell Bennett, who represents tort plaintiffs; Paul R. Fine of Daniels Fine Israel & Schonbuch LLP, who represents tort defendants; and Ned Good of Good West & Schuetze, a veteran attorney for tort plaintiffs.
Also Deputy District Attorneys Anne Ingalls, Roderick W. Leonard, and Danette Meyers; family law specialist Stephen A. Kolodny of Kolodny & Anteau; Gretchen M. Nelson of the plaintiffs’ tort firm Kreindler & Kreindler LLP; Bruce S. Ross of Holland & Knight LLP, an estates and trusts attorney; Linda Miller Savitt of Ballard Rosenberg Golper Savit, who represents employers; tort and commercial litigator Alan K. Steinbrecher of Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker, LLP; and tort defense lawyer Walter M. Yoka of Yoka Smith.
One area that needs to be addressed, Collins said, is whether—and how—the court can demand greater accountability from individual judges for their conduct. Historically, he noted, presiding judges have insisted that all they can do is move the so-called problem judges from one courthouse to another, which merely moves the locus of the problem, and report offenders to the Commission on Judicial Performance.
And presiding judges who exercise what limited power they have, he said, can be subject to retaliation, as occurred when Klausner transferred the late Burton Bach to another courthouse, only to have Bach retire from the bench and run against Klausner at the next election.
Klausner won easily, but he had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to do it, Collins pointed out.
“I am not satisfied with the effectiveness of CJP,” Collins added, saying he supports proposals to expand the range of sanctions available to the commission, which may currently remove or censure judges but cannot impose fines or suspensions, as is true of watchdog agencies in some states.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company