Tuesday, October 10, 2006
New CJA Leader Scott Kays Urges Preservation of Independent Decision-Making
By a MetNews Staff Writer
New California Judges Association President Scott L. Kays Saturday sternly called upon members of the bench and bar to help preserve and promote the independence of the state judiciary.
“Judicial officers in California need your support and help in educating the public about the precious connection between fair and impartial decision-making and an independent judicial branch,” Kays, a Solano Superior Court judge said. He addressed the CJA and State Bar following the traditional installation ceremony for CJA and State Bar leadership.
A part of CJA’s Executive Board since 2004, the jurist was sworn in to his new post by Chief Justice Ronald M. George at the Hyatt Regency Monterey during CJA’s annual convention, which ran concurrently with annual meetings in the same city for the State Bar and Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations.
Kays reminded his colleagues that judges have been under fire for individual decisions, alluding to unsuccessful efforts last year to recall Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren E. McMaster—who rejected an attack on the state’s domestic partner law—and similar moves made in Marin and Orange counties.
Echoing concerns expressed earlier by the chief justice in his annual State of the Judiciary Address, Kays pointed to a South Dakota voter initiative entitled the “Judicial Accountability Amendment,” which has been styled “Jail4Judges” and will be designated on the state’s November ballot as Amendment E.
The measure, intended to hold a judge accountable “should he or she violate a person’s rights either on purposes or even by mistake,” provides for a special grand jury of 13 members to determine if a civil lawsuit against a judge may go forward, and whether there is probable cause of criminal conduct, Kays explained. Among other things, the law would empower the special grand jury to indict judges for criminal conduct, and allow for the removal of judges from office under a three strikes provision, he said.
Referencing a recent Zogby poll showing that 67 percent of South Dakota voters favor Amendment E, Kays turned the focus homeward:
“Arizona and California have been mentioned as the next states for this type of initiative. Does subjecting judges to civil or criminal liability for decisions they make in individual cases make for fair and impartial decision-making? Absolutely not.”
Expressing his support of the South Dakota State Bar’s opposition to Amendment E, Kays encouraged legal professionals in California to do the same and reiterated that the independence of judicial decision-making was fundamental to providing equal access to the courts, and to fair and just court proceedings.
Though limiting his installation remarks to the judicial independence issue, Kays at CJA’s membership luncheon a day earlier had articulated four other priorities for his 2006-2007 term.
At the top of his list was achieving “real, meaningful” reform of JRS II—the judges’ retirement system serving retirees who began their bench careers after 1994.
He also said that CJA would weigh in on the question of whether or not trial court judges can be the subject of contested elections or retention elections.
In addition, Kays remarked that the CJA would have to be “mindful of” the issue of breaking up the Los Angeles Superior Court, which was now “back on the radar screen.” A proposed constitutional amendment that would have created about a dozen districts, each electing no more than 36 judges, died in committee in the past session but its sponsor has promised a renewed effort.
Finally, he said, the CJA would continue working with the Judicial Council of California and the Administrative Office of the Courts on the Government Code calculation for salary adjustments.
“We’re all extremely delighted about the accomplishments of this year—the eight-and-a-half percent that comes in January, and the 50 new judges—but we have to keep the momentum and we have to keep pushing, and I’m committed to do that,” Kays told CJA members.
Kays, 55, was appointed to the court in 1997 by then-Gov. Pete Wilson. He currently sits on civil assignment in Solano County and is serving a one-year term as presiding judge of the county’s Appellate Department. His other experience on the bench includes terms as presiding judge of the court from 2002 to 2003 and supervising judge of the county’s civil and family divisions.
Before his appointment, Kays spent 21 years in private practice concentrating in civil litigation, family law, probate and governmental law, and served as a judge pro tem and as an arbitrator and mediator for the American Arbitration Association.
Kays, a Republican, received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from UC Irvine and earned his law degree from Hastings College of the Law. He was admitted to the State Bar in 1976.
Also sworn in with Kays on Saturday were Plumas Superior Court Judge Ira R. Kaufman and Orange Superior Court Robert J. Moss, as vice presidents, and Orange Superior Court Judge Barry S. Michaelson as secretary-treasurer.
Among CJA’s newly installed board members are Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Clifford L. Kline and Patricia M. Schnegg.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company