Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Bill on Judicial Appointment Advisers Passes, Faces Veto
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The California Assembly gave final approval yesterday to a bill seeking to increase diversity on the bench by requiring the governor to disclose who advises him regarding judicial appointments, but a spokesperson renewed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s threat to veto all legislation until the Legislature passes a budget.
Assembly members voted 46-21 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.
However, a spokesperson for the governor, commenting that Schwarzenegger has taken no position on the bill itself, said that the Legislature should focus on passing a budget, and pointed out that the state is now two months into the fiscal year.
The bill, which passed the Senate 22-14 last Thursday, would also require each member of the 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.
The Assembly had previously approved the bill in May by a vote of 46-27, but voted again yesterday to address amendments to the bill’s authorship that the Senate adopted in July.
Supporters, including author Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles, said the bill 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 law.
However, 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.
There 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.
Opponents of the bill have 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.
Davis told the MetNews that the bill was intended to restore transparency to the process, saying that approximately 27 other states have similar requirements and that a transparent system would ensure that the selection process is fair.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company