Wednesday, August 9, 2006
Senators Drop Bid to Force District Elections for L.A. Superior Court
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A proposed constitutional amendment that would have required that Los Angeles Superior Court judges be elected by district, with each district to elect no more than 36 judges, was withdrawn yesterday by its sponsors.
A statement distributed by the office of Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, said the amendment was withdrawn in the face of opposition from the Judicial Council and a union representing public workers.
The statement read in part:
“Currently, incumbent judges have almost no significant political challenge because of the exorbitant costs facing any potential challenger given the task of running countywide in a county of ten million people. Therefore there is little to no accountability within the judicial system.
“The judges are a formidable opponent and they are very committed to protecting the status quo and thus ensure that their incumbent judges are protected from any legitimate challengers. This unfortunately also protects judges from any additional accountability no matter their performance.
“With respect to SCA 16, Judicial Council has made statements that are factually incorrect and this apparently was sufficient to bring opposition from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) which presented an insurmountable hurdle at this time, which prompted us to withdraw the measure from committee.”
The statement was issued in the name of Runner and his co-sponsor, Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-Van Nuys. But a spokesman for Alarcon said late yesterday that the senator had not authorized the issuance of the statement, which promised a renewed effort to pass the amendment next year.
Judicial Council Opposition
June Clark, a senior attorney for the Judicial Council who lobbied against SCA 16, said she had not seen the statement and could not comment on it. She did, however, supply a copy of the council’s letter of opposition.
Clark argued on behalf of the council that the amendment was unclear as to whether the new districts would be used for election purposes only, or for administrative purposes as well, and that the amendment would cause problems in either event.
If judges were required to actually sit in the districts from which they were elected, it would be necessary to align court-required services such as probation, prosecution, mental health, and legal aid with the new districts, Clark wrote, potentially causing duplication and confusion.
If, on the other hand, the districts were used for election purposes only, the accountability sought by the sponsors would not exist because voters would be casting ballots on candidates who would not necessarily be hearing cases from those voters’ districts, the attorney argued.
In another legislative development, a bill that would prohibit confidential settlements in civil cases involving conduct that may be prosecuted as a felony sex offense cleared the Legislature and awaits action by the governor.
The Assembly Monday concurred in Senate amendments to AB 2875 by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Woodland Hills. The bill previously passed both houses unanimously.
As amended, the bill permits the parties to such a case to maintain confidentiality as to the amount of any settlement and as to the plaintiff’s identity and medical information.
Secret settlements have caused “a significant increase in the likelihood of repeated molestations and the destruction of innocent people’s lives,” the bill’s sponsor said.
“Secrecy agreements should not be permitted in felony sex abuse cases” Pavley said in a release “It is imperative that we do all we can to safeguard our children and community from sexual predators.”
The bill is patterned after a 2003 law that limits secret settlements in elder abuse cases, and reflects a targeted approach taken by opponents of confidential settlements after several attempts to pass comprehensive legislation stalled.
AB 2875 is supported by Attorney General Bill Lockyer, the California District Attorneys Association, Consumer Attorneys of California, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, and groups representing labor, law enforcement, and victims of sexual abuse.
No opposition to the bill was recorded during the legislative process.
While much of the debate was focused on the use of secret settlements to resolve claims of molestation by the Catholic clergy, Pavley told fellow lawmakers, such settlements have not been limited to the Catholic church or to clergy. Other cases, she noted, have involved church volunteers, members of community youth service organizations; foster parents, and administrators of homes for the mentally disabled.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company