Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Assembly Approves Bill to Disclose Judicial Appointment Advisers
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Assembly yesterday approved a bill that seeks to increase diversity on the bench by requiring the governor to disclose who advises him regarding judicial appointments.
Assembly members voted 46 to 27 to approve AB 2095, which would require the governor to post on his official state website the name of anyone who receives any materials about judicial applicants from the governor or his representatives.
The bill would also require each member of Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation—the designated agency of the State Bar of California responsible for evaluation of judicial candidates—to complete two hours of training on an annual basis in the areas of fairness and bias in the judicial appointments process.
Supporters of the bill, including author Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles, said it was necessary to address a historical lack of transparency as to who participates in California’s judicial selection and evaluation process on local judicial vetting committees. They contend that it will help to address what they characterize as a continuing lack of sufficient ethnic, racial and gender diversity in the state’s judicial branch.
Local vetting committees have long reportedly served as anonymous “gatekeepers” for state governors to vet applicants for judicial posts among locally established members of the Bar and the judiciary, and the governor does not have to disclose details of the local committee process under existing state law.
However, recent reports have indicated that some of the governor’s advisors are already known to some lawyers, and critics contend that the current secretive process is secret only from less well-connected attorneys in local communities.
The are reportedly currently eight JSACs scattered around the state, with at least one in each of the six appellate districts, and one reportedly devoted to the Los Angeles Superior Court as a result of its size.
The committees have historically been appointed either by the governor directly or the governor’s appointments secretary, and there are reportedly more than 60 unofficial, unpaid advisers who currently vet judicial applicants.
Davis told the MetNews that his bill was intended to restore transparency to the process, saying that a transparent system would ensure that the selection process is fair.
Noting that “our strength is our diversity,” Davis said that approximately 27 other states have similar requirements and remarked that the proposal was “not a new idea.”
‘Poor Job’ Alleged
AssemblymanTed Lieu, D-Torrance, who was also an author of the bill, spoke in support of the bill on the Assembly floor, and said that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had done a “poor job” in appointing judges in terms of judicial diversity during his first four years in office.
Lieu told the MetNews that it was okay to have committees to advise the governor, but said that it was unfair to allow “secret’ committees that could be lobbied by “insiders.”
Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento echoed his colleague’s complaint, saying he believed it was one reason why “little headway” has been made in diversifying the bench.
Jones had been behind a similar proposal last year, but aaid the legislation was put on hold when members of the governor’s staff indicated that the disclosures would be made voluntarily.
He characterized the governor’s decision not to do so yet as “regrettable.”
Jones also said the disclosure was particularly important because there is no legislative oversight over the governor’s appointments to the superior courts.
Support for the bill was not limited to Democrats, and Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, said on the Assembly floor that “it is grossly unfair” that people who are “connected” know who to talk to about trying to get a judicial appointment, while a good lawyer who isn’t politically connected does not have that information.
Spitzer said is a little concerned about some statements that Davis made about other motives of the bill, but that he shared concern about who is “whispering in the ear of our governor or his advisors.”
Opponents of the bill, including Assemblyman Rick Keene, R-Chico, contended that the current system works, and that it allows the state to get some informal but important input from the legal community as to whether a judicial candidate has the moral character, integrity and intellectual capacity for the job.
Keene said that he feared that mandatory disclosure would violate the governor’s prerogative of appointing members of the judiciary and make the appointment process “too political.”
He also expressed concern that the bill would make it harder for the governor “to get honest opinions.”
However, Jones rejected criticism that the bill could have a chilling effect on individuals’ willingness to advise the governor on appointments, saying “if people are so ashamed of having their names disclosed, perhaps they shouldn’t be part of the process to begin with.”
Three members of the Assembly were absent, while four other members did not take a position.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company