Monday, December 5, 2005
Judicial Council Endorses Proposal to Amend Constitution
Revision of Art. VI Would Affect Judicial Elections, Pay, and Budgeting, as Well as Composition of Rulemaking Body
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The California Judicial Council Friday unanimously endorsed a proposal to revise Art. VI of the state Constitution.
“The proposals approved today would affect all parts of California’s court system by providing increased stability to the courts and protecting judicial independence ñ while permitting us to better serve the public,” Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who chairs the council, said in a statement.
The proposal would go the voters at a future statewide election if approved by two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature. The possibility of seeking approval through an initiative, a costly and labor-intensive process that has been discussed by advocates of judicial branch reform in the past, was not mentioned in Friday’s release.
The amendment would:
•Establish, for the first time, a constitutional funding mechanism for the courts. Similar to Proposition 98, which guarantees that a specified portion of the state budget will go to education each year, the amended Art. VI would require the Legislature to establish a base-year budget for the courts, which would then be automatically increased each year to reflect changes in the cost of living as well as population growth.
•Require the Legislature and governor to provide a sufficient number of judges to ensure access to the courts and requires the Judicial Council to report to the Legislature on standards concerning the number of judges needed for that access. There is currently no requirement in the Constitution that the Legislature create new judgeships to keep up with caseloads.
•Write in to the Constitution the recently granted authority of the Judicial Council has the authority to oversee California’s more than 450 courthouses.
•Recognize that the high court has “inherent and primary authority” to regulate bar admission and the discipline of attorneys, and that the State Bar serves as the administrative arm of the high court.
•Write in to the Constitution the automatic cost-of-living increases now granted judges by statute, and create an independent Judicial Salary Commission—with three members appointed by the governor, and two each by the Senate, the Assembly, and the chief justice—with authority to grant additional raises.
•Revise the timing of judicial appointments and elections. Court of Appeal justices, who now run for retention only in gubernatorial election years, would run at the first general election held more than two years after appointment, and would serve full 12-year terms if retained, even when appointed to succeed a justice who had not completed a term.
The amendment would also create an incentive for governors to fill vacancies promptly, by providing that when an appointment is made within six months of the creation of the vacancy, the new judge serves for at least two years before having to run for election. Otherwise, the new judge could be required to run in as little as eight months.
•Change the Judicial Council’s membership by adding three additional trial court judges and one nonvoting trial court administrator, and establish procedures for appointment of council members, including four superior court judges to be appointed from nominations by the superior court presiding judges.
The council’s final draft dropped several provisions that had been objected by the California Judges Association and the State Bar.
The State Bar registered objections to the suggestion that its appointments to the council be reduced to recommendations, with the chief justice making the final choices. A proposal to require judges to undergo specified amounts of professional training, which supporters had suggested would help draw public support for the proposal, drew CJA opposition and was dropped.
Also dropped was a proposal, popular with superior court judges but considered politically perilous by others, to change the terms of trial judges from six years to 10.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company